By Sharahn D. Boykin, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - A Baltimore legislator is proposing a two-year pilot program to screen some 500 men who have no health insurance for prostate cancer, which for Maryland men is the most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death.
Under the bill, the pilot program would screen men over 40, and would provide referral services and treatment for those found to have the disease. The program would operate in the two jurisdictions in the state which have the highest rates of prostate cancer.
"To receive either no treatment or treatment that does not meet currently accepted standards of care and to die of prostate cancer, which is generally a curable disease, is really and truly something that should never happen in the state of Maryland," said Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore, the bill's lead sponsor.
Early detection through screening has long been advanced as the best way of treating prostate cancer, which will strike one of six American men. African American men are 60 percent more likely to contract the disease than Caucasians, and more than twice as likely to die from it, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
"Prostate cancer screening has not gotten enough attention yet," said Eric Gally, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. "We have been very aggressive in (Maryland) about colon cancer screenings. It was a good idea to concentrate on that first because of how deadly it is. That doesn't mean we shouldn't start seriously start working on prostate cancer."
While the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene supported the proposal, officials expressed concern that additional resources would be needed to run the pilot program. Most counties use their allotment from the cigarette restitution fund screen for colon cancer, said Dr. Marsha Bienia, director of the cancer program at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Bienia said that if counties were forced to provide prostate cancer screenings, they may not be able to continue providing colon cancer screenings without additional resources. The problem, said Bienia, is that there is no scientific evidence that shows that prostate cancer screenings reduces the number of deaths, whereas there is research that shows that colon cancer screenings reduces deaths.
According to an analysis of the bill, the measure if passed would cost slightly less than $500,000 over the two-year pilot program.
"I am concerned that some counties, if we don't get additional money would be forced to switch from a proven intervention with colorectal screening to an intervention, while important, we don't have scientific evidence to know that we can reduce mortality," Bienia said.