At least once every October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month), the White House is lit up with pink lights to help raise awareness about breast cancer. In and of itself, that action does not increase funding for research and treatment, but it does provide a highly visible reminder of the importance of testing and early diagnosis.
Most men are not even aware that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and the White House has never been lit up even once in blue. Blue is the official color for the prostate cancer awareness campaign.
I urge all men, and their families and friends, to click on Light It Blue and sign the petition. It will only take a minute of your time and you don’t have to donate anything to the sponsor, Blue Cure.
I find it appalling that, out of the millions of men with prostate cancer in this country (not to mention the additional millions of family members), we still have not achieved 2,000 signatures on this petition.
That kind of continued apathy can only lead to more disrupted lives and deaths.
Men are 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than women are with breast cancer. Yet, prostate cancer research receives only a fraction of the funding provided to breast cancer research. In this country alone, almost 300,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, close to 30,000 die from it each year, and just under 3 million men are currently living with it.
I am one of them. In September 2013 at age 66, I was diagnosed with a high-risk prostate cancer. I only went to my doctor because of urinary symptoms, primarily caused by an enlarged prostate and a bladder infection. But a PSA test came back very high — 25.6.
Because of the nature of my cancer, I determined that surgery was not a viable option. However, following a long sequence of treatments that involved 12 months of hormone therapy — a euphemism that really means medical castration — followed by two types of radiation therapy, my PSA dropped to undetectable and, in November 2014, I took my last shot of Lupron (the hormone therapy drug). Nine months later, that drug and its nasty side effects finally flushed out of my system and my testosterone level, also undetectable back in November 2014, recovered to normal levels.
But my battle will never truly be over. Every three months, for at least the next year or two, I will have another PSA test and meet with my oncologist. We will be watching for any sustained increase in PSA. If it remains stable for two years or so, I may be able to switch to semi-annual PSA testing.
But I now have to live with the nagging concern that my prostate cancer may return, even though sometimes that recurrence might not happen for five, ten, or more years. That concern is now just part of my life.
You might hear people tell you that “more men die with prostate cancer than from it.” On a purely statistical basis, that might be true, but many of those men will be in the same medical boat as I am — living with that nagging concern of recurrence.
Make no mistake, however, that men die from prostate cancer every day. Just in the past month, a half-dozen men I know died from prostate cancer, primarily from recurrent cancer that spread to their bones. That can be a very unpleasant and painful way to die.
Some (including the shortsighted Centers for Disease Control) might tell you that there is no need for screening (the PSA test and the dreaded Digital Rectal Exam) unless you have symptoms or are at increased risk because of a family history of prostate cancer. Don’t fall for that line. Early screening and detection WILL save lives.
After the advent of the PSA test, the number of men initially diagnosed with high-risk prostate cancer declined as did the number of deaths from the disease. Since 2011, when the US Preventive Services Task Force foolishly declared that screening was more hazardous than not screening, more and more men (like yours truly) have been diagnosed with high-risk cancer and the death rate appears to be, once again, creeping up (new statistics are likely to show a 5% increase in prostate cancer deaths).
In future posts, I’ll discuss options if your PSA comes back high, options than can avoid the unpleasantness and risks of the usual random biopsy and increase the odds of accurately diagnosing any cancer your prostate might have.