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OPINION: September is National Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Months

During the month of September – National Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – Gift of Life urges Southeast Texans to be aware of the risks and symptoms of these diseases.

“Early detection through screening is one of the most important factors in treating and curing cancer,” said Chief Medical Officer of Beaumont Regional Cancer Network Ernest Hymel, MD, PhD, MBA. “Cancer can devastate families, and it puts an enormous economic and emotional burden on the patient and care providers. In this year alone, more than 600,000 Americans are expected to die from cancer, and many of those patients will die because their disease advanced without detection.”

Even with tremendous advancements in research and treatment, prostate cancer is the second-most diagnosed cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer death. Today, one in eight men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime — often without any major symptoms. African American men are at an increased risk since the disease can start earlier and grow faster than in other groups. The disease can also impact younger men during their prime, employable years with almost one-third of prostate cancer occurring in men under 65. Fortunately, localized prostate cancer has a five-year survival rate of nearly 100% – reiterating the importance of early detection.

With the regional increase of COVID cases, Gift of Life Men’s Health Advisory Committee recommended the organization host its annual Men’s Health and Prostate Cancer Screenings after January 2022. Screenings will include prostate cancer and primary care tests in key locations throughout Southeast Texas. Collaborative healthcare providers will extend vital medical services to men who are uninsured and underinsured, offering essential educational materials through event distribution sites and virtual learning opportunities. Participants with abnormal outcomes will be navigated to local physicians, with costs underwritten by the program. To date, the program has conducted more than 10,500 free prostate cancer screenings and helped diagnose nearly 80 men.

Gift of Life programs also include the Julie Richardson Procter Ovarian Cancer Educational Awareness Initiative that educates the public about ovarian cancer – a silent disease with vague symptoms that ranks as the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death among women and the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. Established in 2011 in tribute to Procter, a Gift of Life board member who tragically passed away at the age of 51 after a valiant battle against ovarian cancer, the endeavor provides cutting-edge information about the signs and symptoms of this devastating disease.

Three additional Gift of Life board members and committed volunteers – Georgie Volz, Lola Campbell Wilber and Norma Forey – also lost their lives at young ages to ovarian cancer, and the program continues to dedicate its ongoing efforts in their loving memory.

Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer, making it difficult to diagnose in early stages. Therefore, it is crucial that women are educated about its risk factors, like family history and infertility, and symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain and difficulty eating.

Research indicates that up to 50% of cancer cases and about 50% of cancer deaths are preventable with the knowledge we have today. Prevention and early detection are proven, effective strategies to lower healthcare costs. There are many ways to reduce your cancer risk, including avoiding (or quitting) smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and protecting your skin from the sun.

Gift of Life’s work has never been more critical as the COVID-19 crisis has left its nearly 3,000 annual screening clients extremely vulnerable due to restricted access to healthcare and other community resources, compounded by unemployment and lack of insurance. Everyone is feeling the health and economic effects of the pandemic, and there are no easy answers.  However, Gift of Life continues its lifesaving mission because the families, patients and communities we serve need our help.

With the compassion and commitment of our donors, volunteers and other supporters, Gift of Life can reduce healthcare disparities and continue saving lives and improving the care and well-being of those in need.