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An update on my encounter with cancer
A PSA (public service announcement) on PSA (prostate specific antigen).
Many of you will remember I had an internal radiation procedure in January, which I wrote about in detail, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer last September. I decided to use that moment to create awareness regarding something I’d known little about — and which was a gut-punch to learn I had — realizing many others didn’t know much about it either.
Early detection was vital, and it’s why testing of PSA (prostate specific antigen) — a simple, routine blood test — is important for everyone who has a prostate. The Prostate Cancer Foundation urges regular testing to begin at age 40 if you are Black or have a family history of cancer, and at 45 for everyone else.
So, I’m very happy to report that my recent first blood test since my treatment had my radiation oncologist impressed enough to tell me not to come see him again, deeming it a 93% chance of success. My PSA dropped dramatically, as expected, an indication of cancer remission. I want to use that word “success,” as my oncologist did, but I’ll just stick to saying it’s gone very well — and will of course monitor it for the rest of my life. We all know anything can happen, so you build that into your expectations.
At the same time, I have to say that the entire event seems like so long ago and as if nothing happened. As I’d written about in describing the minimally-invasive, one-and-done treatment, called low-dose brachytherapy — otherwise known as radiation seed implants — I was in and out of the hospital in a few hours and there was no cutting, no pain of any kind. I didn’t experience the common short-term side effects, such as urinary frequency or retention. I was back to work, the gym and out and about in a couple days.
Again, early detection was key. I can’t stress it enough. I wouldn’t have been able to have the relatively simple procedure if the cancer was more advanced. There are other great options, as I described, and enormous advances have been made. But detecting this early gave me more choices.
So, yes, this is another public service announcement. Get tested and/or tell others to get tested. I addressed the mini-controversy surrounding testing in the first piece I wrote: A fear among some medical professionals that there are too many unnecessary biopsies performed because the test isn’t perfect.
But while that may have been the case for some — and getting a negative biopsy result isn’t the worst thing in the world! — it doesn’t mean you throw out this vital screening. Just because your PSA may be elevated it doesn’t in fact mean you should move on to a biopsy right away. An experienced urologist knows there could be other, less serious causes of an elevated PSA, and will perform other tests. You may just keep testing your PSA over a period of time — for me it was nine months — to see if it continues to rise.
Prostate cancer is slow-growing so you have that time. And at a certain point you make a decision with your doctor on getting a biopsy. Or, if your insurance will cover it (mine didn’t), you can have an MRI done first, which could rule out cancer and spare you the biopsy. (For what’s it worth, while some say the biopsy is difficult or painful, I found it just slightly uncomfortable, and fairly quick, done under local anesthesia in my urologist’s office.)
It’s only a blood test. It can’t hurt you. But it can save your life.
Of course, if people don’t have access to healthcare, telling them to get tested means very little. I’m thankful and lucky to have health insurance, and to have access to exceptional medical care. As I wrote in that first piece, this experience has recommitted me to fighting for healthcare for everyone.