SENATOR DOLE'S TESTIMONY
BEFORE THE SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING
SEPTEMBER 23, 1997
Thank you for inviting me this morning. When I left congress 15 months ago, I vowed that I would not lobby for any "special interests." So, when asked to testify about prostate cancer this morning, I was a little reluctant. But, as you all know, when senator Grassley wants something, he is very persuasive. So, I am here along with others to simply speak about our personal experiences with prostate cancer.
Almost six years ago, I was one of the more than 300,000 men who had to hear perhaps the most dreaded words one can hear from one's doctor, "you have prostate cancer." It goes without saying
That I was stunned. My first reaction was to think it must be a mistake. He must be talking about someone else. But, it was me.
I have to admit, I wasn't even certain I knew what a prostate was -- let alone that it might threaten my life. But, I did know that I had been getting up a lot every night. That, alone, was my only symptom. I mentioned it to the capitol physician, dr. Krasner, during my annual physical. Dr. Krasner found nothing suspicious during my exam, but he did give me a blood test, called a prostate specific antigen test or PSA test. The first test turned up a level of 4.8. This, I was told, was considered to be elevated, but not by much. Usually 0 to 4 is a normal level. Dr. Krasner
Rechecked the level in a few months, and subsequent tests saw the PSA level rising to 6.9 and then to 8. A rising level of PSA , I was told, can signify an increase in the volume of a suspected tumor.
A biopsy was done. The result was positive. And, on December 18, 1991 1 underwent a radical prostatectomy by dr. David McLeod, who will testify later this morning. Dr. McLeod advised me that my cancer had been caught early while it was still confined to the prostate gland. And, the good news was I would need no further treatment other than periodic PSA tests. Almost six years later, my PSA level remains at zero.
After my surgery was complete, I was immensely relieved, but wanted to know more about this disease. If I, the senate republican leader, a member of the finance committee where health care issues frequently dominate the agenda, and an individual who had a great deal of personal experience with health care, had never really heard of this disease, would not have known to ask for a PSA test or any other test for that matter, and who really had almost no symptoms, how many other men were out there who didn't know to go to their doctor and get checked. I couldn't possibly be the only person to have had prostate cancer. But, why had I never heard of anyone else discussing it?
Elizabeth and I discussed it, and with her encouragement, I decided to go public with my story. Women were very fortunate to have pioneers like betty ford, who candidly and courageously discussed her experience with breast cancer. Who knows how many thousands of lives betty ford saved with her candor and how many women today remain the beneficiaries of early detection.
For me the question was, where do I begin? What I started to do was begin every speech I gave by encouraging all the men over the age of 40 in the audience to ask their doctor about a prostate check-up, and to ask about the PSA test. I also addressed the women in the audience. Women are so much better about taking care of their health
And seeing a doctor regularly. I concluded, maybe the wives or daughters of men would encourage a visit to the physician's office.
Before long, the media started picking up on these messages I was delivering, and I found myself on "The Larry King Show" and the networks -- not talking about politics, but instead talking about prostates. I started referring to myself as the "prostate pin-up boy", and before long, the letters and phone calls came pouring in. Nearly everyone wanted to know everything about prostate cancer and how to treat it -- it's side effects, such as incontinence and impotence -- I learned much more about prostate cancer in the process.
While my office was quickly becoming, in a sense, a dissemination center on prostate cancer information, it occurred to me that much of this was happening because of the void out there on men's health issues. It became a personal crusade to increase awareness about prostate cancer.
By august of 1992, about 8 months after my surgery, I sponsored the first "bob dole prostate cancer screening booth." In a few days, with the help of volunteers, including dr. Mark Austenfeld, a young urologist at the university of Kansas, about 300 free PSA tests were done. We received some media attention because this prostate screening booth was near the convention floor at the republican national convention in Houston.
Since then, I have sponsored many screening booths at places such as the Kansas state fair, the trading floor of the Chicago mercantile, and again at the 1996 republican convention. We expanded our services to include free mammograms. Thanks to the cancer research foundation of America, enough money was raised to screen about 20,000 men for prostate cancer and about 5,000 women for breast cancer.
So, I've learned a great deal about prostate cancer since 1991. But, I've also learned a lot about all cancers. And, though I'm not a doctor or a scientist -- I've been told by the experts that the cure for prostate cancer, or breast cancer, or any
Other type will come when we focus on the cure for all cancers.
I've said it all along that there is nothing to be gained by pitting one cancer against another. Or for that matter, one disease against another.
Every cancer can probably benefit from more research dollars. And, I hope in the near future, a way will be found to make that happen.
Let me conclude by emphasizing how important early detection is to saving lives. I have to admit, at the beginning talking about prostate cancer and the possible side effects was difficult and at times awkward. But, when you open a letter from a
Man who writes to thank you for saving his life, there is no such thing as awkwardness. So, on behalf of all the men, and their families, who will benefit from this hearing this morning -- and who may even, themselves, become the next beneficiary of early detection, I would like to express my whole-hearted appreciation for this committee, particularly Senators Grassley and Shelby, for bringing together this very impressive group of witnesses.
I guarantee this hearing will make a difference for men all across America.