Father's Day is a particularly meaningful time to get the word out about the disease that affects one in six men — even if not one of those six wants to talk about it.
"Prostate cancer is an uncomfortable topic," says Shelley Schwartz, founder of Prostate Health International.
"Men don't want to discuss it. A group of men can meet every week for 20 years and play cards or play golf, and then never mention if they get prostate cancer."
Prostate Health International is holding its annual Father's Day "Gary Papa Run" to raise money for prostate cancer education and screenings. The event, "formerly Run 4 Your Life," was renamed for 6ABC sportscaster Gary Papa, who worked with PHI until losing his own battle with prostate cancer in 2009.
The 5K run/walk on Sunday, June 19, starts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at 8 a.m. For those who prefer to stroll, there's also a 1-mile Fun Walk.
Last year over 3,000 people came out for the run; Schwartz hopes to reach 5,000 this year.
Nine years ago, at the first Father's Day run, only 300 people participated. But fortunately, Schwartz says, times have changed.
She started Breast Health International in 1990 to educate women about early detection and raise funds for breast cancer research and screenings, because "no one was talking about breast disease."
A decade later, more people were opening up about breast cancer, but prostate cancer was still spoken about in whispers. "We realized that prostate cancer awareness was in the same place that breast cancer awareness had been, so we decided to raise funds for that, too," Schwartz recalls.
"Because, with any cancer, survival rates are higher if you catch it before it spreads."
Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death from cancer for all men, and the most common cause for men older than 75, according to the National Institutes of Health. Men who have a first-degree relative — father or brother — with the disease have an increased risk.
It's rarely found in men younger than 40; 10 years ago, it was rarely discovered in men younger than 50 — but that's largely because no one under 50 was getting screened, says Eric Horwitz, chair of radiation oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
"Prostate cancer is more in the news nowadays, and younger men are getting better about getting check ups," the doctor explains.
The catch with prostate cancer screening is that the results can be misleading. Doctors look at the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. A high amount of PSA can be a red flag — or not.
"It's not a magic test. If a physician or a patient goes into it thinking this number is good, this number is bad, that's when mistakes happen and cancer is over-diagnosed," Horwitz says.
"The key is to get tested every year and look at the pattern. Then you learn what your own normal is, so if there's a sudden change you know to get it checked out.
To sign up, go to: www.GaryPapaRun.com.