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This is one of the best stories on a prostate cancer journey that I have seen on video since I posted a blog on Rudy Giuliani. These two political icons had access to a massive amount of information about their prostate treatment options….and then made opposite decisions: Senator John Kerry chose surgery , while Mayor Rudy Giuliani chose radiation seeds and external beam radiation.
Taken together, their compelling stories illustrate that there are many options in prostate cancer (as there are in breast cancer) and that men with prostate cancer need to be informed about all of their options, including the benefits, risks, and side effects of surgery on the one hand, or radiation therapy on the other. While the best evidence is that these two treatment approached have the same survival outcomes, the side effects and toxicities are quite different. In the end, many men with prostate cancer have a major role in deciding which treatment is best for them.
Speaking at a LIVESTRONG Conference (Lance Armstrong Foundation ), Senator Kerry began his story by describing his personal experience with the tragedy of his father who died of prostate cancer. In his situation, Sen. Kerry had a PSA of 2.2 that rose to 2.7 based upon his annual physical exam. His wife, Teresa Hines Kerry told him, “That tick of 0.5 is significant and you should go back to your doctor”. (I might have ignored this small elevation too! Husbands: listen to your wives…it may save your life!). He then described the process of getting a rectal ultrasound, prostate biopsies, and communicating the “bad news” to his family. He pointed out that “relationships change” when you carry the diagnosis of cancer.
How did Sen. Kerry approach this issue as a newly diagnosed prostate cancer patient? First, he read everything he could about prostate cancer, on the web and also from Dr Patrick Walsh’s book on prostate cancer. Next , he talked to many doctors of different specialties as well as other prostate cancer survivors about their experience. After reviewing all of his options, he chose surgery (at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center), with a prostatectomy and reported that he did very well after his surgery.
I have posted blogs about several famous people with prostate cancer, including Rudy Giuliani, Don Imus, Arnold Palmer, and Sen. Chris Dodd. Note that all of these stories include the importance of a physical exam (i.e. a rectal exam) and a screening PSA which was the method of first detecting the prostate cancer for all of these gentlemen. They also describe having a PSA as a monitor for recurrence.
The use of screening PSA tests is controversial. And the American Cancer Society has changed its recommendation to downgrade its value as a screening test at a national level (*see their policy statement below). Nevertheless, many men (including me) have an annual PSA because we believe in its value. For more information about this see my blog “To Screen or Not To Screen: Detecting Prostate Cancer“.
In the circumstance with Sen. Kerry, cancer hit his family hard, since his wife had breast cancer (See my blog on Teresa Heinz Kerry) and his father died of prostate cancer. Educate yourself so you’re prepared if your family faces similar circumstances. Sen. Kerry read Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer, which I would also highly recommend. Also for more information about prostate cancer, see our companion website: www.patientresource.net.
The American Cancer Society’s position on PSA screening:
“The American Cancer Society (ACS) does not support routine testing for prostate cancer at this time. ACS does believe that health care professionals should discuss the potential benefits and limitations of prostate cancer early detection testing with men before any testing begins. This discussion should include an offer for testing with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE) yearly, beginning at age 50, to men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and have at least a 10-year life expectancy. Following this discussion, those men who favor testing should be tested. Men should actively take part in this decision by learning about prostate cancer and the pros and cons of early detection and treatment of prostate cancer.
This discussion should take place starting at age 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African American men and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65). This discussion should take place at age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with several first-degree relatives who had prostate cancer at an early age). If, after this discussion, a man asks his health care professional to make the decision for him, he should be tested (unless there is a specific reason not to test). ”
For more information, go to their website at www.cancer.org.