An exam only takes about 10 minutes. Yet millions of American men still aren’t inclined to get one.
In 1999, the Urology Care Foundation declared September as National Prostate Health Month, with President George W. Bush issuing a proclamation in 2007. Yet the foundation says in 2019, prostate cancer was nearly twice as prevalent among American men as lung or any other types of cancer, including colorectal or melanomas.
A Tempe-based organization is trying to change the stigmas surrounding prostate health and screening. To mark National Prostate Health Month, the Prostate On-Site Project is holding the 13th annual Walk for POP event Saturday, Sept. 24, from 7 a.m. to noon at Tempe’s Kiwanis Park.
One in seven men contracts prostate cancer at least once during their lifetimes, the CDC says. Prostate cancer is the second-most deadly cancer among American men behind lung cancer.
Dr. Peter Matthews, a retired urologist who performs exams for the project, said the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer tend to attack the youngest, healthiest men.
“We’re really looking at age 50 as when most men should start getting an annual exam,” Matthews said. “And for some demographics, such as Black men or people with a close family member who had some type of cancer, we really want guys in their 40s to start getting checked.”
Walk for POP is dedicated to the memory of Tim Barber. He was a Tempe Police detective who lost his battle with prostate cancer in 2011 at the age of 42. Marla Zimmerman is CEO of the Prostate On-Site Project, which has both corporate and nonprofit arms.
Her father, Gene Felkner, was a former professional football player and NFL marketing executive who dedicated his last years to founding POP and supporting its mission and the importance of early detection.
Zimmerman said her father, who died in 2013 at age 84, was successfully treated for prostate cancer in 1997, an experience that added about 16 years to his life and led him to the realization there was little being done to educate men about the importance of early detection of the disease.
Felkner founding of All Sports Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the awareness, education, and regular testing for prostate cancer. It later took on the name POP to avoid confusion over it being a sports-related organization.
Zimmerman said POP’s annual walk raises awareness of the importance of early detection of prostate cancer.
“With early detection and treatment, prostate cancer is nearly 100% survivable,” she said. “We find it’s often the women in men’s lives who will push them to get an exam and get treated, as they still aren’t encouraging each other.”
While there appears to be no government-published statistic showing how many Arizona men die of prostate cancer each year, Zimmerman said the statistics she’s seen lead her to believe the number is about 600.
While Arizona is relatively low on the list of U.S. states in terms of all types of cancer per capita, Zimmerman said there is much more Arizonans can do to detect potentially fatal ailments at an early stage.
In addition to the stigmas associated with the digital rectal exam, many men are reluctant to go see a doctor for pain, discomfort or other obvious sign something’s wrong. And in cases where cancer is in an early stage, there might not even be any pain, Matthews said.
“Ideally, we’d train men to start examining their own testicles for abnormalities in their teens and 20s,” he said. “You can get what’s known as a painless mass. And on the other side, since an enlarged prostate is often part of aging, you can have benign enlargement or elevated blood test numbers. So it’s important to get checked regularly and know your baseline — what’s normal for you.”
Matthews says there’s a growing variety of treatment, ranging from hormone therapy to chemotherapy to cryotherapy, or freezing cancer cells.
“Some of the newest types and modalities of treatment, it might be tough to have insurance cover that, but doctors are always pushing insurance to cover more treatments,” Matthews said.
POP has two mobile prostate screening units that travel the state, making annual screenings easier and more convenient by coming to workplaces, health fairs and community events. A mobile unit will be at the walk, and the first 100 men to register will receive a prostate cancer screening.
There will also be vendors, food and entertainment.
On Sept. 14, Matthews conducted 50 screenings at an event.
“The key is to get men to think about it and to talk about it with their male peers,” he said.
Screening includes a prostate specific antigen blood test, digital rectal exam, testicular exam, and board-certified urologist consultation. Men will be referred for follow-up testing if results indicate an issue.
“Men don’t like to talk about it,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve made a lot of progress on breast cancer in women, with buddy checks and early detection. Now we need to do the same for men.”
Men can register for the event at prostatecheckup.org or by calling 480-964-3013.