Back in 1990, when a suspicious lump was discovered on my prostate, my ignorance of the prostate gland and the possibility of prostate cancer was monumental. No one in my family or even among my close friends had ever had prostate cancer, and it never occurred to me that I might one day have the disease.
Now, 25years later I am still alive, the average man over 50 is more aware of prostate cancer, and also many less toxic and more effective treatment options are available. And yet one thing has not changed: just hearing the doctor say, “I’m afraid it’s cancer,” can leave even the most pragmatic man planning the music for his funeral.
Truth is there is still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about this disease. So here are some facts that I hope will alleviate some of your fears, and also clarify why I still contend that if you have to have cancer, prostate cancer is the best deal in town.
Prostate cancer is unique among cancers because the mortality rate is so low. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 2 million men who have been diagnosed at some point are living with the disease in the U.S. It’s difficult to determine actual prostate cancer survival rates because most men are around 70 years old when diagnosed, and many of them will die from medical problems unrelated to the disease. But if you check out the “relative” 5-year survival rate of all stages of prostate cancer, you will find it is almost 100%. And that almost 100% of men with low-risk or intermediate-risk disease live more than 10 years after diagnosis.
Why is it that the statistics for prostate cancer are so much less frightening than for other cancers?
1) The PSA test is an early warning system that other cancers don’t have.
2) It can easily be diagnosed at an early stage.
3) In most cases it has an exceptionally slow growth rate.
4) Extremely effective monitoring and treatment is now available.
5) It has a pattern of spread that spares critical organs like the brain, lungs and liver.
6) There is a safety net like no other called “hormone blockade” that induces remissions lasting more than 10 years in men with relapsed disease after surgery or radiation.
So instead of thinking about your funeral, what you really want to be focusing on is not rushing into some form of radical treatment that will virtually guarantee some degree of impotence or incontinence.
It appears that patients and doctors alike struggle with the idea of “watching” anything called cancer. But unless you have the less common high-risk form of the disease, my advice to you is to consider “Active Surveillance” really carefully, especially if you are over 70. Because bottom line—and it bears repeating—out of over 200,000 men in the U.S. diagnosed annually with prostate cancer, the overwhelming majority will die with the disease, and not from it.