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Dr. Drew: I am a cancer survivor

Prostate cancer behaves differently at different ages

CNN News Wire | 9/24/2013, 12:35 p.m.
While many of you were celebrating the Fourth of July, I was at home on my couch recovering from a ...
Dr. Drew Pinsky

My doctor and I decided on a course of active surveillance, also known as “watchful waiting.” It’s just like it sounds. So we paid attention. The tumor was monitored over the course of more than a year. I had two more biopsies. I’m glad I did. I’m glad my physician’s intuition told him to order them. They showed that the mass on my prostate had spread. There was too much volume. The tumor had become unpredictable. Something wasn’t right, and my doctor knew it.

Treating low-grade prostate tumors is an inexact science. There’s what the clinical guidelines recommend. Then there’s what the doctor thinks is best. Sometimes, these two forces are at odds. Once again, my physician listened to what his gut told him. Had he followed the textbook, my outcome might have been worse.

Facts

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 200,000 men in this country are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Twenty-five thousand men die from it annually. It’s most common in men over 65. More than half of all men, by age 80, will have cancer in their prostate. I’m in my 50s, so cancer found me early.

Surgery

I didn’t need any convincing to have surgery. My doctor had reached a point where he wasn’t comfortable with active surveillance anymore. His discomfort was good enough for me. My prostate had to come out.

I’m relatively young. I have a wife. I have three children in college. I didn’t want cancer coming back.

So I had a radical robotic prostatectomy in early July 2013. I went home and took my place on the couch the day after. But it’s not a simple or easy operation. A four-armed robot, operated by a surgeon at a control panel, maneuvers inside the body as if the surgeon’s hands were doing it. When I came out of the anesthesia, it felt as if someone had been messing around with my insides. Not good.

Neither was what they found inside; the tumor had a “finger” on it that was millimeters from being contained. It was ready to spread, and would have, had it not been removed.

Follow-up

Why am I telling you this? I want you to hear it from me. Not from the Internet. Not from a gossip column. Not from someone who doesn’t know me.

And I want to make you aware. Men, you are likely to get prostate cancer. The odds are you will if you live long enough. When you do, don’t freak out. You don’t need to take action today. In many cases, time is on your side.

What concerns many males faced with prostate cancer is not the cancer itself, but possible incontinence, and sex. Nerves at the base of the penis, necessary for an erection, can be irreparably damaged by surgery and radiation. Research shows that many men do not get tested for prostate cancer because they fear the effects of surgery they may not even need!