Real Men Wear Gowns: The Importance of Early Cancer Detection

According to CDC analysis of the period between 2001 and 2020, 170.3 men died of cancer per 100,000 compared to 124.5 women per 100,000.

There are various reasons for the higher rate of cancer deaths among men, but one is undoubtedly a lack of early detection and cancer screening adherence.

There are ways in which society puts a greater emphasis on cancers that commonly affect women. The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly $515 million was invested in breast cancer research in 2020 compared to $212 million for colorectal cancer and $209 million for prostate cancer. Because of media attention and the clever marketing of the pink ribbon symbol, it’s likely more people are familiar with Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) than Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (September).

One of the best things to happen to cancer advocacy for men was the “Real Men Wear Gowns” campaign that started in the aughts. Including athletes and celebrity advocates for male cancer screenings helped broaden the campaign’s appeal, which sought to encourage men to put their families first and endure the temporary discomfort of colonoscopies.

Unfortunately, men have a particularly high risk for some cancers (especially prostate cancer for Black men). Deaths have been decreasing in recent years due to advancements in treatments like proton therapy – but survivability rates are still dramatically different for patients with early-stage cancer compared to late-stage cancer.

Are Black Men More at Risk for Prostate Cancer?

  • Black men are 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men.
  • They are 2.1 times more likely to die from prostate cancer.
  • White men over 50 have slightly higher prostate-specific antigen testing (PSA) rates at 37 percent compared to 33 percent for Black men.

Cancer screenings do save lives. More than 99 percent of men who receive an early prostate cancer diagnosis survive at least five more years.

An Honest Assessment of Cancer Screenings

Honesty is important in any discussion of preventative cancer screenings. Cancer screenings and early diagnoses are not guarantees of treatment success, but they significantly increase survivability. There are also rare circumstances where testing can be problematic, specifically after a patient receives a false positive or false negative.

Risks Associated with Overdiagnosis of Symptomless Cancers

  • Unnecessary anxiety
  • Additional costly visits with oncologists
  • Having to undergo invasive and sometimes expensive diagnostic procedures, imaging and biopsies
  • Unnecessary prostate cancer surgery can have traumatic side effects, including urinary incontinence and impotence

Do the Benefits of Cancer Screenings Outweigh the Risks?

There are significant benefits to developing more sensitive tests that are better able to detect cancer in early stages, but these tests often come with higher rates of false positives. It’s important for oncologists and cancer researchers to clearly show that the benefits of new testing methods outweigh the negative repercussions of false positives or that new testing methods reduce the prevalence of inaccurate results.

What Are Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED) Tests?

As the name suggests, these innovative tests are designed to detect multiple types of cancer, potentially even before symptoms appear, with a single blood sample. The test analyzes biomarkers like cell-free DNA, RNA, proteins and other metabolic or genetic substances released into the bloodstream by cancer cells. 

The goal of increasing early detection rates is laudable. Still, patients must realize these tests are not replacements for traditional screenings like mammograms and colorectal cancer screenings, which are still necessary after an initial positive MCED. A risk with these tests is that the ease with which they are performed may contribute to higher rates of false positives.

Should You Undergo Early Cancer Screening?

People, especially men, should base their decision on their age, overall health, family history of cancer and any personal risk factors they may exhibit. PSA tests can have false positives and may lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, but education can help mitigate some risks.

It’s usually best not to let the unlikely worst-case scenario dissuade you from pursuing diagnostics that can potentially save your life.

People in need of cancer treatment in Eastern Virginia and the surrounding region should consider consulting with the Hampton University Proton Cancer Institute (Hampton Proton). Its oncology team is made up of leaders in the revolutionary field of proton therapy, which can drastically decrease the potential side effects of cancer treatment. Call 757-251-6800 to find out if you’re a candidate for proton therapy.