OREM -- Utah men already have more incidence of prostate cancer than men in other states.

And in Utah County, the incidence is even higher, judging by the results of recent screenings Columbia hospitals have run in the past month."The last screening we did validated that higher percentage," said Dr. McKay Platt, a urologist and private practitioner who's been conducting the screenings. "We had 13 of 67 men examined diagnosed with either a nodule or an elevated prostate specific antigen."

The elevated prostate specific antigen in the blood indicates a cancerous condition in the prostate, Platt said. An elevated PSA will show up before a patient has noticed symptoms and the nodules are too small for a physician to identify in a routine digital rectal exam.

When a man shown to have an elevated PSA seeks treatment, the cancer is about 80 percent curable, he said.

That's a whopping improvement from the percentage rate of 25 percent curable when prostate cancer is detected through the digital examination method.

"Men can avoid a painful, debilitating death by getting annual prostate exams," Platt said. "It's an ugly way to die and completely avoidable."

Overweight men are more at risk than men in relatively good health.

Prostate cancer seems to be related to dietary fat, Platt said.

Also, men who have a family history of prostate cancers ought to be examined by their personal physicians annually after the age of 40.

Men who don't have a family history of the disease can fairly safely wait until age 50 to start getting annual checkups.

Currently, the American Cancer Society, the American Urologic Society and the American College of Surgeons all recommend yearly screenings for prostate cancer.

Cost for the test is usually about $32 and after the year 2000, most insurance plans probably will cover the cost since Medicare will begin coverage for the screenings at that time, Platt said.

"We have two types of people who don't die from prostate cancer once they get it," Platt said -- "Those who come in early enough and those who are already too old to warrant surgery for the cancer. They tend to die from something else.

"What we usually see are mostly the men who don't see a doctor on a regular basis," Platt said. "They are the ones most at risk because a prostate cancer victim exhibits almost no symptoms until the cancer's fairly far along."

In Utah, because men are more likely to be nonsmokers, married and able to sleep well at night, they live longer.

That explains the higher rate of prostate cancers, Platt said. There are simply more older men in the state.

Next to skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It is usually treated with radical surgery. Sometimes radiation therapy or hormone therapy can arrest the progression of the disease but usually a man diagnosed with prostate cancer will need to undergo a three-hour operation to remove the prostate, an organ designed to be the receptacle for seminal fluid.

Timpanogos Regional Hospital, Mountain View Hospital and Dr. Platt will offer another free screening day on Jan. 13, said Jacque Brown, director of public relations for the local Columbia Systems hospitals.

For information, call 741-6520.