Comparing Breast Cancer Awareness to Prostate Cancer Awareness

By: Thomas A. Farrington, PHEN Founder and President

October 22, 2014

October is "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" as most everyone in this country who watches television or visits any department store is well aware. The striking color of "pink" is everywhere. I salute breast cancer advocates for raising the awareness for this disease to the highest levels. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer among women and this high level of awareness is well deserved and very important in promoting the need for its early detection in efforts to save lives. 

During October
we watch NFL games with players wearing pink shoes, socks, wristbands, gloves, towels and more. However, this highly effective awareness campaign does not stop there but it extends down to Pop Warner football games. I spent a day with my eleven - year old grandson this past weekend. We always enjoy our time together but had not had the opportunity to get together for a few weeks so we both were looking forward to a fun day. As soon as he hopped into my car he was anxious to go to a sports store. I asked what did he need and he answered that he wanted me to buy him pink socks and wristbands for his football game the next day so that he could support breast cancer. As we walked into the sports store pink was on display everywhere which prompted him to want many more items than we had agreed upon. After making our purchases he and I had a very interesting discussion as we left the store.

I asked my grandson whether the players on his team wore "blue" in September to support "Prostate Cancer Awareness Month." He responded that his team had not worn any blue and he did not know about prostate cancer awareness month, but that he would wear blue next year if I let him know. After telling him that he should spend some time on grandpa's PHEN website I asked did he know that he had a prostate. He responded no, as I would expect most any eleven-year-old to do.   

My grandson had not been born when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and while he has spent time in PHEN's offices I had never considered talking with him about prostate cancer because of his young age. However, I now realize that my grandson has been recruited to promote breast cancer awareness - WOW! And I thought he was playing video games. I let him know that I was proud of him. When we returned home I autographed a copy of my book about prostate cancer: "Battling The Killer Within and Winning," and told him to start reading it as soon as he got home.

I wonder how many of the NFL football players promoting breast cancer awareness, like my grandson in Pop Warner, are completely unaware that they have a prostate. I would expect that less than 50% would know they have a prostate and understand their risk for prostate cancer. Likewise, probably far less than 20% of this country's population is aware that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. What an impact the NFL and other professional sports teams could have on prostate cancer awareness, especially for their own employees, if they approached this disease like they approach breast cancer awareness. What an opportunity lost!

Breast cancer awareness and prostate cancer awareness are not mutually exclusive. What man is not supportive of efforts to save the lives of the women we love, and what woman would not be supportive of efforts to save the lives of the men they love. These are two devastating diseases that impact entire families. However, prostate cancer awareness compared to breast cancer awareness needs a high energy boost.  

Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer for men like breast cancer is for women. In fact, when you compare the key statistics estimated for 2014 they are very similar:

                                              Breast Cancer                                                   Prostate Cancer

a) New Cases                           232,670                                                              233,000

 b) Deaths                                    40,000                                                                29,480

 c) African American                1 in 9 women                                                      1 in 5 men

Incidence rate

I am often asked why Major League Baseball (MLB) promotes breast cancer awareness in May for Mother's Day and not prostate cancer awareness in June for Father's Day? Why is the White House lit pink in October for breast cancer and not blue in September for prostate cancer awareness? why does the NFL promote breast cancer in October and not prostate cancer in September? These are but a few of the numerous questions that I receive. Please know that prostate cancer advocates have worked diligently to gain support in all of these areas.

The reality is that the political environment for breast cancer and prostate cancer are polar opposites even though the impact of these diseases is nearly identical. The political landscape for each disease drives the level of awareness, research funding, detection, the development of new treatments and more. Prostate cancer is far behind in each of these areas and progress in the fight against this disease is being severely stunted. In addition to the vast difference in the level of public awareness for the two diseases, another telling example is the level of research funding provided by the Department of Defense's (DOD) Congressionally Mandated Medical Research Program where funding for breast cancer research was $160 million compared to $80 million for prostate cancer in 2014. This trend continues throughout most every measurable factor of support. 

Breast cancer survivors and advocates have succeeded in achieving a high level of awareness and attracting support from most every sector important for continued progress in the fight against this disease. I admire and wholeheartedly voice my support for their efforts and believe that even more should be done. Conversely, we (prostate cancer survivors and advocates) are challenged to create a broad public awareness and to gain much needed support from policymakers and from the entertainment and business sectors for continued progress, and in fact, to guard against losing ground in the fight against prostate cancer. 

As we come to the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) following Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (September) I am attempting to address some of the many questions that I receive to explain the vast differences in the level of awareness activities for these two diseases and what this means overall. Also, as PHEN plans its education and awareness activities for 2015 I am sending a clear message to prostate cancer survivors, advocates and supporters that we have much work that we must do to raise the awareness of prostate cancer.. 

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