Baker, Ireland share stories at prostate cancer awareness event


BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Gov. Charlie Baker and the former chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court shared personal stories on Thursday about prostate cancer, the second most prevalent type of cancer for men after skin cancer.

Roderick Ireland, the former chief justice, recalled how he insisted on receiving a biopsy after reading a book his friend Wayne Budd sent him about an author’s experience with the disease. The former U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts, Budd is the senior counsel in the litigation department of Goodwin Proctor.

Ireland, who is black, told the audience at a prostate cancer awareness event the cancer is more prevalent among people with African ancestry.

“Prostate cancer is an epidemic in the African American community and we need to address it,” said Ireland. The longtime judge, who retired in 2014 as he approached the mandatory retirement age of 70, said he received a cancer diagnosis after reading the book 14 years ago. He said his urologist was resistant to granting Ireland a biopsy because a blood-screening test cleared him, but he “persisted.”

“For me early detection really made the difference,” said Ireland, who said he has been cancer-free for 14 years.

The governor, former chief justice and House Speaker Robert DeLeo all spoke at AdMeTech Foundation’s eighth annual prostate cancer awareness day. According to the organization, which is behind the Manogram Project, prostate cancer is curable but kills 600 Bay State men annually and has a 2.5 percent higher mortality rate for black men.

Affecting a male reproductive organ, the disease can be devastating if detected too late, according to Dr. Richard Babayan, chief of urology at Boston Medical Center. Babayan, who is president-elect of the American Urologic Association, said when he began his residency in the 1970s doctors didn’t have access to technology for blood screening of a prostate-specific protein, and 80 percent of the prostate patients were diagnosed after the cancer had spread to other parts of their bodies.

“We watched them die,” said Babayan, who said the patients were treated with hormones, had their testicles removed and were treated for pain, leading “a horrible existence.” He said now 80 percent of prostate patients are diagnosed when the disease is curable.

Baker, a former state health and human services secretary who for years steered the health insurance company Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, said his father had survived prostate cancer and he said family history can be the best predictor for many diseases.

Baker said his father “knew there was a tendency towards prostate cancer” in the family, and was vigilant for symptoms that allowed him to catch it early.

The governor also discussed the Alzheimer’s disease that has afflicted his mother.

“Many of the people on my mother’s side of the family unfortunately developed dementia and Alzheimer’s in their old age, and my mom from the time she was in her 30s used to talk about the fact that she anticipated and expected that at some point in her life she would be dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Baker said. “And sure enough when she turned 74 we started taking that long, long walk that’s associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s for her. But we knew it was coming. It’s just part of our DNA, and it’s probably part of mine as well.”

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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