Maybe Nothing, Maybe Not by Ken Burger
It seems every few months another medical “study” hits the news media declaring that prostate cancer might be overtreated in America, that it's slow growing and many middle-aged men might forego surgery and other treatments and simply die of something else. You've seen the headlines, heard the news reports. And perhaps those snippets have caused you to wonder if you need to worry about prostate cancer; if doctors are just overreacting and rushing men into treatment prematurely.As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
It's true that some cancers of the prostate can be watched over a period of decades and never threaten your life. Regular monitoring of your PSA (prostate specific antigen) and a biopsy of the prostate provide important information as to the potential danger. Because, all prostate cancers are not created equal. Take my word for it.
When I was diagnosed in 2007, I was told some cancers are slow growing, others are not. That would be determined by my Gleason Score.
Simply put, a pathologist studies your biopsied prostate cells and determines if their appearance has changed. If they look normal, chances are your cancer is slow growing. If they are abnormal, they could be more aggressive. On a scale of 2-10, the lower your score the better. Just my luck, my Gleason Score was 8. That means my cancer is dangerous and needed immediate treatment. Therefore, over the past six years, I've been in a sword fight with cancer – surgery, radiation and hormone therapy – in an attempt to slow it down. So far, so good. But if I had ignored my numbers, it could have been a far different outcome.
“Over the past few decades, since the advent of broad-based cancer screening, the prostate cancer death rate has decreased by nearly 40 percent,” said Dr. John Britton of Lowcountry Urology Clinics. “Additionally, the 10-year survival rate has increased from 53 percent to 97 percent.
“Also, the incidence of prostate cancer has remained unchanged, indicating that screening did not just detect more cancer, but that it also detected cancer earlier, which saved lives.” Dr. Britton said there are several factors that can increase your risk for prostate cancer, including family history, ethnicity, body fat and age. “This is ultimately a decision to be made by a man with advice from his physician,” he said.