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Bob Dole Talks About Prostate Cancer, Urges Health Awareness

Bob Dole Talks About Prostate Cancer, Urges Health Awareness

DALLAS—The American Urological Association is one of the premier specialist medical associations and has done a great deal to advance patient care in this field. I know the AUA works closely with AFUD, the American Foundation for Urological Diseases, and I have a great appreciation for the work you do. Although I’m not a doctor or a scientist, I’m working with you to accomplish some of the same objectives.

I know that in the context of medicine, education takes many forms. The kind of continuing education you are undertaking here in Dallas is essential to your ability to stay on top of developments in your field. But I’m here today to talk to you about a different kind of education—increasing patient health awareness—and, specifically, about reaching some of the most stubborn, obtuse, and difficult patients around—men.

I don’t think there is any doubt that our country produces the most knowledgeable and highly skilled medical practitioners in the world. And it is clear that medical research is discovering and developing many innovative treatments for disease. That’s great news.

But skilled physicians and breakthrough medications won’t do patients much good—unless they see a doctor. And, sadly, that’s something a lot of men don’t do. This unwillingness to see a doctor, as you know, can have serious consequences.

There’s no doubt that men are not doing as good a job as women when it comes to seeing a doctor on a preventive basis. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that men make only 40% of total physician visits. And a recent survey by Men’s Health Magazine and CNN said that not nearly enough American men have seen a doctor in the past year.

There are a lot of reasons for this—fear, denial, and embarrassment among them. Some men—even some men with symptoms who know they should see a doctor—won’t schedule an appointment because they are afraid to find out what their problem is.

Ironically, advances in medical science give men more reasons than ever before to see a doctor. This is a subject I know something about personally. In 1991, I got some bad news during a medical checkup. A routine screening showed I had elevated PSA levels. Further testing confirmed I had prostate cancer.

This was tough news to take. Some members of my staff urged me to keep a low profile. “Get treatment,” they said, “but do it quietly.” I didn’t take their advice. I issued a press release and talked openly about the diagnosis, the treatment, and the prognosis when asked about it during television appearances.

In doing this, I was inspired by the example of former First Lady Betty Ford, who gave hope and courage to many women by talking openly about her breast cancer. She urged women to do their own breast self-examinations and to see their doctors for regular professional examinations.

Since my experience with prostate cancer, I’ve urged men—particularly men over 50—to see their doctors more often and to get regular examinations. I’ve sponsored a “Bob Dole PSA screening booth” at the Kansas State Fair.

I’m not alone in speaking out. Other men, like General Norman Schwarzkopf, and sports figures like Arnold Palmer and Don Baylor have been talking about prostate cancer. They have joined in urging men to see their doctors and be screened as appropriate.

An Even More Intimate Problem

I went through surgery to treat my prostate cancer. The surgery was successful, and my recovery was complete. But my experience in talking about prostate cancer led me to talk about an even more intimate problem, namely, erectile dysfunction—ED.

As you know, ED is a common side effect of prostate cancer surgery. I spoke to my physician, and, at his suggestion, I enrolled in a clinical trial for an experimental drug, an oral treatment for ED that, of course, turned out to be Viagra.

I never really intended to talk about ED. But, last spring, I mentioned it to Larry King during a conversation in the “green room” before an appearance on “Larry King Live.” To my surprise, Larry asked me about it while we were on the air. I answered his question—pretty candidly—on national television.

What really surprised me were the responses I got to my comments. I heard from men all across the country who were suffering from ED and from women married to men with ED, as well. I’ve heard from physicians who don’t specialize in urology, as well as from those who do.

Almost all of the people who contacted me, by phone or by letter, thanked me for speaking out on the subject. They talked about the problem, about its impact on their lives and relationships, about the difficulties they had in coming forward to seek treatment. These people were encouraged that ED was becoming a recognized medical problem, something that could be discussed openly.

Erectile dysfunction can result from prostate cancer surgery. But as you know better than I, ED can be a marker for many serious conditions, including diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and hypertension. The doctor seeing a man with ED gets the opportunity to treat the whole man—to diagnose and treat the underlying conditions I mentioned, and to talk about lifestyle factors that may be affecting the patient’s health.

Getting the Message Across

It became clear to me that this is all part of the larger public issue of men’s health. I’ve talked about some of the problems, but there is a great opportunity here, as well. The benefits to the public health system—and to society—of communicating more about this subject can be enormous.

So, in recent months I’ve been working on a broad range of initiatives aimed at getting this men’s health message across. The response we’ve been getting tells us that we are accomplishing a lot.

In our public health advertisements, we include an “800” number that men or their spouses can call to get more information. The number connects them to AFUD. So far, over 10,000 men have called that number. We don’t know how many men with ED have seen a doctor because of what we’re doing, but we know it’s a lot.

The feedback we’ve been getting from urologists such as yourselves, as well as from other physicians, indicates that this new information is having a very positive effect.

This is a great start, but there’s more to be done. We can all work together to raise awareness of the men’s health issue. Everybody has a part to play here. Men need to see their doctors more often—and to talk candidly with their doctors when they do schedule a visit.

Policy makers need to see that patients have access to medical attention. Patients also need access to innovative treatments as they are approved and become available. It’s been my experience as a patient that physicians need to help men break the silence. They need to ask when it seems as though men might be reluctant to talk about their problems.

You know, sometimes good things come out of bad experiences. I want more men to see their doctors more often. And I want men to learn more about their own health, to recognize warning signs, and to take better care of themselves. That’s the goal I’m working toward. Again, I thank you for inviting me here today, and I welcome your support.

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