Unequal funding and treatment for cancer costs employers
Moira Potter | May 4, 2015
Cancer is an equal opportunity disease. But the way it’s treated is not—and we’re all paying the price. In February, Benefits Canada’s 2015 Employers Cancer Care Summit brought physicians, employers, insurers, pharmacists and healthcare advocates together in Toronto to hear why there are huge nationwide disparities in the quality of available cancer care and access to new medications, as well as in provincial policies toward funding existing tests and emerging treatments.
The PSA Controversy
Prostate cancer is the most common male malignancy, but governments—and men themselves—seem to be ignoring it.
“Getting prostate cancer is like getting grey hair and wrinkles,” said Dr. Neil Fleshner, chair of urology at the University of Toronto and chief of urology for the University Health Network. “Eighty percent of men will develop some degree of prostate cancer as they age, and one in four will die from it.”
A simple blood test—the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test—can dramatically reduce, through early detection, a man’s chance of dying from the disease. Since the test’s introduction in the early ’90s, there has been a 40% decline in mortality for Canadian men battling the disease.
So why, then, did the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health recently say PSA testing isn’t necessary for men of any age? “I think this is an abomination,” said Fleshner. “These guidelines even recommend against the digital rectum exam—even when a man has symptoms such as difficulty urinating. So [the Task Force] is essentially saying we should let any man destined to die of prostate cancer do so.”
Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada, agreed. “This is the same organization that, a couple of years ago, suggested mammograms weren’t necessary for women under the age of 50. Guess what happened? Provincial legislators across the country received visits from our colleagues in the breast cancer movement who told them, in no uncertain terms, that if they defunded mammograms, they did so at their peril.” The pressure worked. Governments across Canada continue to fund mammograms for all women.
So why aren’t men mobilizing in the same way? Why aren’t they outraged that the Ontario and British Columbia governments refuse to fund the PSA test for men without symptoms?
“Because men are their own worst enemies,” said Rossi. “We ignore our health. And if it concerns anything below the waist, if we’re not bragging, we’re not talking about it!”
Both Fleshner and Rossi agreed men are being sent the message that the PSA test is optional. “And when men don’t have to take a test, they won’t,” Rossi said. “Because of that, they are dying and suffering unnecessarily.”
The solution is to raise awareness. While the Movember campaign has been hugely successful in doing that, Rossi wants women and workplaces to be more involved. “Women will ask the tough questions and push their men to take this seriously,” he said. “And employers can help by promoting PSA testing and including it in their workplace health plans.”
Moira Potter is a freelance writer based in Toronto.