Dr Navin Shah, the catalyst behind national prostate cancer legislation

Dr. Navin Shah, a Maryland urologist and erstwhile president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, has been in the forefront along with US Congressman G K Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, for introducing a legislation, that if enacted, could save thousands of African American lives, among others, by being tested for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men.  One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime with nearly 221,000 new cases diagnosed each year.  But current screening techniques can be improved in order to avoid inaccurate results that either leave many men believing they are cancer-free or lead to painful, costly, and unnecessary procedures.

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer related deaths in American men. In 2014, there were 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,480 deaths due to prostate cancer. Sixty-five percent of prostate cancers are found in men over 65 year’s old. The early detection and treatment has resulted in a 99% five-year survival rate in prostate cancer patients, compared to only 68% in 1977. Due to prostate cancer screening and prostate cancer treatment there are three million prostate cancer survivors living in the US.

Dr. Shah, who has been concerned about the American Urology Association’s recommendation that prostate cancer screening for men 70 or older is unnecessary, which would have meant that those in that age group who wanted to undergo such screenings would not be reimbursed by insurance — met several US lawmakers last month and sought to convince them to introduce legislation to help combat prostate cancer.

His efforts led to Congressmen G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Walter Jones (R-NC) introducing the National Prostate Cancer Plan Act (H.R. 2730) last month that would establish a council of federal agencies, patients, and medical experts charged with drafting and implementing a national strategy to combat prostate cancer.

“Prostate cancer is an epidemic and has a disproportionate impact African Americans,” said Butterfield.  “Black men have the highest prostate cancer rates of any racial or ethnic group and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease.  The National Prostate Cancer Plan Act marks an important step forward in finding treatments and cures to a disease that kills nearly 30,000 Americans every year.”

“I’m pleased to join Representatives Butterfield, Jones and Cummings in support of legislation to address a serious health risk that affects one in seven American men,” said McCaul.  “Prostate cancer, sometimes called the ‘silent killer’, affects close to 18,000 men each year in Texas.  In addition to supporting critical biomedical research at places like the National Cancer Institute, we must focus our efforts to develop a strategy to beat back this terrible disease which is exactly what the National Prostate Cancer Plan Act will do.”

“Men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as they age, so the development of more accurate screening techniques and new treatment options is critical to increasing quality of life and survival rates, particularly among older men,” said Butterfield.

“So many of us have either been personally affected by prostate cancer or have lost a loved one who suffered from the disease,” Cummings said.  “One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes.  The National Prostate Cancer Plan Act will improve detection and diagnosis of this disease so that we can provide these men with the best chance for a long, healthy life. This bill represents a giant step forward in our battle to combat this curable disease and literally save lives.”

Butterfield said the bill would also need support from the public and specialty groups, and exhorted the Indian American community, particularly the influential IndianAmerican physicians, to urge action on the bill: “That’s the way we get legislation moving here in Washington. We form alliances with other groups who have an interest in the subject. We call them stakeholders and certainly Dr. Shah is a stakeholder and every urologist ought to be a stakeholder and the National Prostate Cancer Plan Act is not just a Black Caucus effort — it’s for every male in America.”

Butterfield also praised Dr. Shah for his efforts. He said, “No question, Dr Shah’s leadership on this issue is really appreciated. Statistics show that 240,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year — that’s almost a quarter of a million men — and 28,000 of these will likely die from the disease. So, this is an issue of public importance. Dr. Shah is one of the leaders in raising this issue. Prostate cancer has been talked about for years, but the question is, we got to be challenged to do more, and he’s certainly challenged us.”

The National Prostate Cancer Plan Act would direct the National Prostate Cancer Council to develop and implement a national strategic plan to accelerate the innovation of diagnostic tools to improve prostate cancer screening and early detection, while also helping to reduce unnecessary treatment.  The Council would also be responsible for evaluating federal prostate cancer programs and coordinating prostate cancer research and services across all federal agencies.

Jones said, “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and the National Prostate Cancer Plan Act would establish a national plan to improve prostate cancer screening and early detection. It is my hope that a national prostate cancer plan will bring down the high rate of prostate cancer and allow men to live healthier lives.”

The legislation has been endorsed by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, American Urological Association, Prostate Cancer Research Institute, and ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer.  The bill is modeled after the National Alzheimer’s Project Act which passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2010.

Navin C. Shah, MD is a Practicing Urologist, Medical Education Director, Metropolitan Ambulatory Urologic Institute and MidAtlantic Urology Associates, Treasurer of Mid Atlantic Urology Associates, and is the CEO, American Professional eXchange Association. He is the past President of Medical Staff, Doctors Community Hospital, Washington DC Metropolitan area, Past President of The American College of International Physicians (ACIP), a former Trustee of The Maryland State Medical Society, and is the Co-Founder and Past President, The American Association Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI).

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