Lowcountry Headlines

Lowcountry Headlines


Doctors, lawmakers look at high rates of prostate cancer, deaths in SC

Conceptual image for viral ethiology of prostate cancer

Photo: Dr_Microbe / iStock / Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Doctors say South Carolina has “a major problem” right now: high rates of diagnoses and deaths from prostate cancer.

It’s one of the most common cancers in South Carolina, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, but compared to other cancers, fewer state resources are targeted toward prevention and educational efforts.

A new Prostate Cancer Study Committee has formed at the State House, made up of doctors, researchers, patient advocates, and lawmakers aiming to figure out what the state’s role should be in addressing the challenges this disease poses to South Carolinians.

“We’re here to try to really do something meaningful for this state, not just say we met and did something,” Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said at the committee’s first and only meeting so far.

Setzler is one of four lawmakers on the panel and a survivor of prostate cancer.

So, too, is his colleague, Sen. Tom Young, who lost his father to the disease.

“It became abundantly clear to me in the weeks and months after my diagnosis that many men my age, older than me, younger than me, didn’t have a clue about getting checked for prostate cancer,” Young, a Republican from Aiken County, said.

Data from DHEC shows the screening rate for prostate cancer among South Carolina men 40 and older has gone down in the last decade, with nearly half of men being screened in 2014 and just a third of them screened in 2020.

“We have a chance to be a light to the nation here, if we do this right, if we construct a screening program that engages the provider community, engages the community, and makes the test cheap,” Dr. James Hebert, the director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of South Carolina, said.

On a positive note, a recent report found the death rate of prostate cancer in South Carolina dropped 50% in the last 25 years.

But disparities linger, with Black men 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer than White men in South Carolina and 2.3 times more likely to die from the disease.

Data indicates mortality rates are also elevated in rural counties, which one doctor said means more needs to be done to expand access to care.

“Trying to get urologists to come to a rural community is a difficult thing when you don’t have enough of them,” Dr. Ron Glinski, the head of the urology division at McLeod Health in Florence, said.

Experts say the state should put a greater focus on increasing education and awareness about screenings and prevention.

A representative from DHEC told committee members South Carolina’s health agency gets millions of dollars in the state budget for prevention and awareness campaigns for other cancers, including breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung.

But no money went toward these same efforts for prostate cancer in the most recent spending plan.

“Do you envision that DHEC could do something similar with prostate cancer if we were to develop a funding stream for that?” Young asked.

“I think there’s a path forward there, yes, sir. From talking with the program folks, it’s really about education,” DHEC Director of Legislative Affairs Scott Jaillette responded.

In addition to funding solutions, others are pushing for a change in law.

At least four other states have passed legislation that requires insurers cover the full cost of prostate cancer screenings for men at high risk, according to the nonprofit ZERO Prostate Cancer.

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