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Prostate cancer survivor wants equal time for men

Bob Samuels doesn't want to downplay the need for breast cancer research, but he wishes equal attention were paid to prostate cancer.

A prostate cancer survivor himself, the 59-year-old retired banking executive is on a crusade to draw more attention to a disease that kills more than 41,000 American men each year. Tonight, fellow survivor Len Dawson, the retired football Hall of Famer, returns to Tampa for a second town hall meeting on prostate cancer.

"We have got to go back and re-educate the American male to the value of preventive healthmaintenance," said Samuels, whose cancer is in remission after being diagnosed three years ago. "We sort of abdicate our responsibility for managing our health to a doctor."

It was Samuels' drive to reach more men _ particularly African-American men, who have a significantly higher risk of the disease _ that resulted in the first town meeting two years ago. Since then, his personal mission has grown into a national coalition for increased federal funding, public education and aggressive medical screening.

The group, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, operates an office in Washington, D.C., and successfully lobbied Congress for a $45-million research package through the U.S. Department of Defense.

Still, he points out that $135-million was appropriated for breast cancer research. Such inequities are fueling a discontent among men, who are challenging the results of years of lobbying from women's health advocates who have shifted the focus _ and funding _ from men's health issues.

"We're not trying to say it's a zero-sum game," Samuels said. "What we're saying is the pie needs to be bigger."

The group is also pushing for state legislation to create a prostate screening task force, similar to a breast cancer awareness program created for women.

"This is sort of a sexual parity bill," said state Sen. John Grant, R-Carrollwood, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

The prostate is a gland that surrounds the neck of the bladder and the urethra. Certain forms of prostate cancer can be deadly when left untreated. Treatment varies from "watchful waiting," a close surveillance of small, non-aggressive forms of prostate cancer, particularly in patients over 70, to radiation, an implant of radioactive pellets, and surgery.

Three years ago, after a routine physical exam showed him to be in good health, Samuels had lunch with an associate from the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer that had been detected through a special blood test. Samuels got the test and discovered he had cancer.

It is now in remission. "One never is cancer free," he said.

Not everyone agrees that early detection through the blood test Samuels relied on is beneficial.

Even at Moffitt Cancer Center, where doctors aggressively screen men for the disease, there is debate over whether early detection is reducing the death rate. Meanwhile, the center is developing research into the effects of diet on prostate cancer and studying the resistance of prostate cancer to chemotherapy.