Rob Byford is one of the lucky ones, not only as a successful serial entrepreneur but as a man who has steered clear of prostate problems. His step-grandfather, however, was not so fortunate and died of prostate cancer when Byford was in high school.

 

“He was a farmer, and he got diagnosed with prostate cancer and he passed away nine months later,” Byford said. “He’s a prime example of someone who had the means and the resources to drive to Memphis to get a checkup, but he just didn’t, you know? Outta sight, outta mind.”

Urology

Rob Byford

Years later, Byford’s grandfather’s death provides a warning for Byford to tend to his own health, and his community-mindedness has led him to sound the same alarm for other men. Byford, who sits on the board for the Arkansas Urology Foundation, is also chairman of the second annual AUSome fundraiser slated for fall. Money raised by the event will support the foundation, which funds various initiatives throughout the year to promote men’s health statewide.

 

Byford said the opportunity to work on behalf of his fellow men in Arkansas is gratifying, knowing the work of the foundation in specific and Arkansas Urology in general saves lives.

 

“I think it’s important that as men we quit sweeping things under the rug and act like it’s not there,” he said. “We owe it to ourselves, our communities and our children to take things seriously, face them head-on and take care of ourselves.”

 

Prostate cancer is a true good-news, bad-news health topic. The second most prevalent cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men behind skin cancer and lung cancer, respectively, prostate cancer remains one of the most survivable when caught early. In fact, the death rate due to the disease dropped by half from 1993 to 2013, the American Society of Clinical Oncology states, and continued to drop about half a percent annually between 2016 and 2020. That suggests death rates have slowed to only those men being diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease, the rest being caught early and successfully treated. The American Cancer Society estimates there are about 3.3 million prostate cancer survivors currently in the U.S.

 

The reduced death rate is proof positive that public awareness and education efforts that have been in place for decades appear to have finally turned a corner and are paying off. After a period of steep decline from 2007 to 2014 due to shifting screening guidelines, incidence rates have climbed about 3 percent annually thanks to stepped-up prostate-specific antigen testing. That is a good sign because the combination of higher incidence and lower mortality is further evidence that more men are getting screened when they should, diagnosed when the disease is at its most vulnerable and giving treatment options a fighting chance to work.

 

In Arkansas, the news surrounding prostate cancer is better than it has been in decades. The Natural State tied with Florida for the fourth-lowest age-adjusted prostate cancer rate with 81.5 cases per 100,000 men, according to the latest available annual statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the five-year period between 2016 and 2020, Arkansas’ prostate cancer incidence was slightly higher than the national average at 111.3 cases per 100,000 individuals compared to 111 cases nationally, the National Cancer Institute states. During that time window, the state’s cases remained stable while incidence rose across the U.S.

 

The CI reported 26 Arkansas counties saw decreases in the incidence of prostate cancer, six saw increases, and the rest remained stable over the five-year window. Two counties did not report due to privacy issues related to the low number of cases. Scott County had the lowest incidence of prostate cancer during that time at 40 cases per 100,000 individuals, followed by Miller (56), Sevier (62), Johnson (66) and Hempstead counties (72). Clark County registered the highest number of cases, 171 per 100,000 men, followed by Desha (163), Jefferson (153), Lee (152) and Chicot counties (150).

 

The positive trendlines for prostate cancer in Arkansas can in part be traced to public education and access initiatives of the kind undertaken by the Arkansas Urology Foundation. The nonprofit organization has proven adept at raising the funds to carry out its mission, having taken in more than $1 million over the four years of its existence. Chris Shenep, foundation director, said the funds go toward helping educate men about the benefits of early detection, as well as making screenings available free of charge.

 

“The AU Foundation connects Arkansans of all ages to comprehensive health care and wellness through education, collaboration and advocacy, inspiring and empowering all men and women to live longer, healthier and happier lives,” he said. “We raise funds and heighten awareness for the programs and services we provide across Arkansas. Priorities of the AU Foundation include free prostate cancer screenings at events such as Kickoff to Men’s Health in the fall, free first-time men’s health screenings, and learning opportunities for fellow urologists and referring physicians.”

 

On the other side of education and prevention lies Arkansas Urology’s clinical practice, one of the most acclaimed cancer centers of its kind in the region if not the country. Dr. Jeff Marotte, AU physician president, who has practiced urology in Conway since 2005, said the Little Rock-based health care organization and its network of clinics enjoy access to some of the most cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment options available.

Dr. Jeff Marotte

“Our prostate cancer treatment includes, specifically, PMSA PET scans,” he said. “These scans are specifically for detecting not only advanced prostate cancer, but prostate cancer that can be caught in its earlier stage. We are finding that we can diagnose cancers a lot earlier now and implement therapy sooner, rather than when they’re at high risk for spreading.

 

“As with anything in medicine, the sooner you get the therapy, when there’s less burden of disease, typically the better the outcome. We’ve invested a lot in our PMSA program and our prostate cancer program, and we’ve had a lot of success to show for it.”

 

Marotte also lauded AU’s research division as another unique feature of the practice. The Arkansas Prostate Cancer Center initiated a few years ago conducts clinical trials in various areas of urology.

 

“We have built a great team with physicians, with research coordinators, with a nurse practitioner,” he said. “We have studied new immunotherapies that show great promise for improving the cancer cure rates for bladder cancer, and we do a lot of genetic studying for prostate cancer.”

 

Dr. Jonathan Henderson, AU physician, is directly involved in clinical trials. He said the center usually has between 12 and 15 trials actively recruiting and another 20 collecting data at any given time.

Dr. Jonathan Henderson

“At Arkansas Urology, our research department has obtained international recognition,” he said. “We conduct clinical trials to develop and bring to patients the latest medications and medical technologies. Because of the results we have accomplished, companies and researchers across the globe seek us out whenever new urologic techniques are being identified.”

 

To date, the center has participated in about 600 trials. Some of the research the organization is currently involved in includes gene therapy and immunotherapy to treat bladder cancer at various stages — the latter therapy could replace chemotherapy — and two studies of immunotherapy in treating prostate cancer. In addition, the center is studying new techniques for destroying kidney stones, new devices to address enlarged prostate symptoms in a minimally invasive way and new drug delivery methods that place small devices in a bladder to release medicine directly where it is needed.

 

“The trials we have participated in have brought many therapies to market and played a role in both quality of life, as well as length of life and level of health to not just Arkansans, but the citizens of the world,” Henderson said. “It is a true passion and calling, this clinical research. We are driven because we see the lives we touch but moreover because we see the ripple effect. One Arkansas Urology patient participating in a trial will touch thousands of more lives over the years to come. We are committed to provide ongoing, world-renowned clinical trials in every aspect of urologic health now and in the future.”

 

For all of the progress that has been and is being made, there are still stiff challenges when it comes to normalizing men’s overall regard for their health and wellness. As part of an educational campaign for men’s health, The Cleveland Clinic surveyed more than 500 American males ages 18 to 70 about their use of health care resources. It found only 3 out of 5 men get annual physicals, more than 40 percent of men only go to the doctor when they think they have a serious medical condition, and more than half of men said their health was not something they talk about. That despite the fact that 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, most commonly starting in a man’s 50s.

 

Given these facts, Marotte said in the fight against prostate cancer, some of the most significant hurdles to get over are societal.

 

“One of the biggest goals we have at Arkansas Urology is improving access to care, and part of that is educating patients and getting the word out to men about being more engaged and proactive with their health,” he said. “There are a lot of patients who just don’t see doctors, whether it’s because of living in a rural area that has really poor access or it’s distance or education or socioeconomic status or cultural differences. Men traditionally don’t like coming to see doctors, and as a result, I still see men coming in, whether they’re 50 years old or 90 years old, who are only coming in here because their wives made them come.

 

“In that sense, the goal is the same as it ever was; to have men come in sooner and address the problem sooner because that’s when we have higher cure rates, higher success rates. That’s what we’re really trying to work on right now.” 

 

Arkansas Urology Events

• National Men’s Health Month: June

• Second annual AUSome event

   Nov. 21, Rusty Tractor Vineyards, Little Rock

Learn more at arkansasurology.com

 

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