DOWNTOWN — Following the second annual “Pink-ification” of the National Football League last month, one spokesman for the Santa Monica-based Prostate Cancer Foundation asks, “Where’s the blue? What about men with cancer?”
Vice President of Communications for the foundation, Dan Zenka — who is also a stage-four cancer patient — met with executives at the NFL on Wednesday to discuss an initiative to raise awareness on prostate cancer. Just one day after concluding his seven-week radiation therapy treatment, Zenka delivered more than 3,400 signatures to the league from the foundation’s online petition asking for awareness parity.
“We appreciate the quick response from the NFL,” said Zenka. “It has done a stellar job in supporting the breast cancer cause and we’re hoping the NFL will give prostate cancer equal playing time on the field.”
Anna Isaacson, director of Community Programs for the NFL, agrees there is always room for raising more awareness; but she also believes the NFL has contributed to the cause and will continue that in the future.
“The NFL has been working closely with the American Urological Association Foundation (AUA) for the past two years on the ‘Know Your Stats’ campaign, an award-winning initiative that will continue to grow in scope and visibility,” Isaacson said in an e-mail. “At the NFL, we are proud of our work in support of prostate cancer and men’s health issues. We look forward to building upon this work in the future, just as we have enhanced our breast cancer campaign over the course of many years.”
The AUA and the NFL teamed up in 2008 to encourage all men, age 40 and older, to talk with their doctors about prostate cancer. That year, the league began offering prostate cancer screenings for retired players conducted by the foundation. This fall, they took their message to the grassroots level with more than 500 local events at hospitals across the country, said Isaacson.
Together, the NFL and AUA have encouraged nearly 170 million fans and loved ones to “Know Their Stats.” This commitment extends to the highest levels of the National Football League, including two recent public service announcements featuring Commissioner Roger Goodell urging men to know their risks of prostate cancer, Isaacson said.
Zenka was diagnosed with cancer last April and prior to his diagnosis, he had no visible symptoms — the only indicator of something wrong was a near doubling of his prostate specific antigen (PSA) readings from his previous year’s annual exam. He underwent removal of his prostate in June. But, post-surgery pathology reports showed that he had advanced stage-four metastatic disease, and is currently undergoing a multi-year treatment plan in hopes of one day being declared cancer-free.
“With 218,000 new cases projected for prostate cancer this year, and more than 32,000 American expected to die from this disease in 2010, prostate cancer is to men, in incidence and mortality, what breast cancer is to women,” Zenka said. “Yet, the NFL hasn’t made as strong a commitment to supporting the cause. We need our grandmothers, mothers, daughters and our grandfathers, fathers and sons. What better forum to get the word out than American football?”
The American Cancer Society estimates prostate cancer will kill about 32,050 American men this year, compared with 40,230 Americans who will die of breast cancer, almost all of them women. Colon and rectal cancer will kill about 51,370 Americans.
“There are expected to be more new cases of prostate cancer but fewer deaths this year than breast cancer,” Zenka said. “Prostate cancer can be detected by finger exams and blood tests — and early detection and treatment gives a man an excellent chance of survival.”
Also, the National Cancer Institute reported over a three-year span, from 2007-09, they spent an average of $291.8 million on research for prostate cancer compared to $581.5-million on breast cancer over the same three years despite the institute’s own claim that prostate cancer is estimated to have more new cases a year than breast cancer.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation, headquartered in Santa Monica at Fourth Street and Arizona Avenue, is the world’s largest funder of prostate cancer research. Since their founding in 1993, the foundation has raised more than $415 million for research, supporting more than 1,500 projects at nearly 200 institutions around the world.