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A Wake-Up Call for Wyden, and the U.S. 

Senator Ron Wyden has announced he has prostate cancer.

The news that Sen. Ron Wyden has prostate cancer reminds us of the need for all men over 50 to be screened annually for this potentially deadly disease – and for the United States to improve its health care system.

Wyden, 61, announced yesterday that the cancer was detected when he got his annual physical exam in late November. “After reviewing all the options with multiple physicians, I decided to take a proactive approach and have surgery,” which will be performed Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Wyden said in a press release. “Thanks to routine screening, this was diagnosed very early and I expect a full and speedy recovery.”

Fortunately, prostate cancer has a high cure rate when detected early, as Wyden’s apparently was. Unfortunately it often produces no symptoms until it’s advanced, which is why routine screening can be a lifesaver.

“If anything is taken away from my experience, I hope it is the importance of getting routine physicals,” the last paragraph of Wyden’s press release says. “One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetimes.  Early detection is critical to catching this disease when treatment is most effective.”

As a member of Congress, Wyden has first-rate health coverage subsidized by the taxpayers and has no trouble paying for an annual physical. But millions of Americans forego routine health exams because they have no health insurance and can’t afford several hundred dollars out of their own pockets. This can mean failure to detect not only prostate cancer but also other diseases that can be cured or successfully managed if caught early, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Maybe some will think it’s in poor taste to use Wyden’s cancer diagnosis as an excuse to plug health care reform, but I don’t think Wyden will mind. Best wishes for a complete and rapid recovery, senator.

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