August 07, 2022
Election


Election

Early prostate screenings save lives

John Salata, ZERO Cancer advocate.

No one ever wants to be told they have cancer.

A cancer diagnosis hits hard and cuts deep. I know because I was diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 years ago. I know that gut-wrenching feeling well because I lived it.

I know the sleepless nights wondering about the future and wondering how much time I had to spend with my kids. I never expected to hear the word “cancer” when I went to the doctor’s office, but there it was, staring me in the face.

I was 47 years old at the time. My diagnosis was an accident. My doctor mistakenly checked off the box for a PSA test, even though I wasn’t the proper age for insurance coverage for the screening.

Based on the biopsy, I opted for a prostatectomy sooner rather than later, and the pathology report came back as stage 3 prostate cancer.

What was devastating news at the time became the very thing that saved my life. Because my cancer was detected and because I was able to treat it, I am alive today. Had I waited until age 50 to get screened, the outcome likely would have been different.

Early detection saves lives. Nearly 100% of men with an early diagnosis of prostate cancer are still alive within five years of the diagnosis.

Sadly, though, prostate cancer screenings are on the decline, and the pandemic has made this grim reality even worse. Researchers estimate 10 million cancer (all types) screenings were missed during the pandemic.

In Illinois, we have an opportunity to turn the tide on early detection. The General Assembly recently passed House Bill 5318, which requires insurers to cover prostate cancer screenings without copays, deductibles and any other cost sharing.

Cost should not be a barrier for men to get an early diagnosis. Fortunately for me, I had good insurance and cost was not a factor when I was diagnosed, but this is not true for everyone facing a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Given the significant success of treatment, getting tested should be a no-brainer. There is no disputing that when it comes to prostate cancer, early detection saves lives.

During my tenure as a volunteer for ZERO, I have had the opportunity to speak to many men about my experience and how early detection saved my life. Unfortunately, some of the people I meet in my advocacy group are not so lucky. I have a friend through ZERO whose prostate cancer was not detected and, sadly, he will likely succumb to it in the not-too-distant future.

My friend’s story and my story could not be more different. Early detection is the pathway to a longer life.

I get to see my kids and grandchildren longer, but my friend’s time with his family is tragically coming to an end. We can prevent this dark reality. The key is early detection.

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• John Salata is a cancer survivor and advocate with ZERO Cancer, a group dedicated to ending prostate cancer.