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Commentary

Congress Must Expand Cancer Treatment Options for America’s Veterans


April 27, 2021

By Victor Murray, safety engineer with NASA, Air Force veteran, and prostate cancer survivor

victor murray air force veteran Nearly half a million veterans have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common form of cancer among former US service members. Unfortunately, despite the burden of this disease on our veterans, many cannot access advanced, minimally invasive treatment options that can effectively combat prostate cancer, reduce debilitating side effects, and lower downstream medical costs for patients.  

During my own personal battle with prostate cancer, one therapy, known as high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), was a welcome treatment, and I sincerely believe it can help other veterans too.  

When I came to the United States from Barbados at the age of 19, I joined the Air Force–a decision that helped me build a life for myself and my family. The knowledge and training I received would eventually lead me to a master's program in public health and a career as a NASA engineer. Those four years of service changed the course of my life and sparked my passion for staying healthy and enjoying all life had to offer. 

So, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, I didn’t hesitate to seek treatment. I knew I wanted the best option to help tackle my cancer while also minimizing side effects that would affect my quality of life. My doctor recommended the two standards of care: radical prostatectomy or radiation, but they both carried the risk of incontinence and impotence. Thankfully, I sought a second opinion after reading an article about HIFU and found a doctor in Houston who performed this procedure. 

HIFU uses focused ultrasound energy to target and destroy only the diseased tissue which reduces collateral damage, and the risk of the two adverse side effects, while also lowering downstream healthcare costs.  FUS is also used to treat Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors. 

But surprisingly, despite its potential to lower costs and improve outcomes, HIFU and other treatments using focused ultrasound (FUS) are not widely offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). That's a shame for the countless veterans who could benefit from this advanced therapy. Not only can FUS improve outcomes and mitigate side effects, but it can also reduce long-term costs for insurers, including the VA.

Congress and the VA must work together to support veteran access to innovative medical treatments like HIFU and FUS. To start, Congress should pass appropriations language encouraging the VA to study and adopt the use of FUS. Doing so would give former service members access to non-invasive, cost-effective treatment alternatives for conditions such as prostate cancer and Parkinson's – diseases with a higher incidence rate among veterans.  

I was fortunate to have the means to cover the cost of my HIFU procedure out-of-pocket, but many of my brothers in service do not have that option. That’s why I urge Congress to work with the VA to expand access to FUS therapy for America’s veterans.  

About Mr Murray

Victor Murray has been a safety engineer at NASA for over 50 years, training astronauts to survive in pressurized space capsules.  Under Murray’s leadership, his team has worked on every major space exploration program since Apollo. When Apollo 13’s oxygen tank exploded, Murray’s team spent more than 20 straight hours making the repairs to bring the astronauts home safely.  When he’s not working to keep astronauts safe and healthy for the flights into space, Murray can be found on playing on golf courses around the world, from Scotland to the Dominican Republic.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Population Health Learning Network or HMP Global, their employees, and affiliates. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, association, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

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