Dr. Drew on His Private Battle with Prostate Cancer (Extra TV)
Dr. Drew Pinsky returned from a Caribbean vacation two years ago feeling ill, with chills so rattling that he had to go to the hospital. He figured he must have caught a tropical disease. Although his symptoms passed, his wife urged him to get a follow-up examination. His doctor discovered something unexpected: he had an elevated PSA, a sign of trouble in his prostate. He got treated for prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate, but was not getting better. He reluctantly had a biopsy and received a new diagnosis: prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer affects 1 in 7 men, making it the most common non-skin cancer in America. In 2014 alone, 233,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 29,000 will die from the disease. Currently hosting Dr. Drew on Call on HLN, Loveline on KROQ radio and his own podcasts, Dr. Drew has built his second career as a public figure by consulting anonymous teenage callers and celebrity rehab patients. To kick off Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Drew is promoting the cause by sharing his own experience overcoming the disease.
“Don’t freak out about it, that’s the main thing I’m trying to tell people,” Pinsky says. I think a lot of people, they hear ‘cancer’ and they go: ‘Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!’” But treating prostate cancer is an individualized process, Pinsky says, that requires comprehensive consultation with an experienced clinician. The treatment he received may not necessarily be right for every patient. The lesson is: invest time and resources to finding a doctor who will devote his focus to your personal circumstance.
For men in their 40s and 50s, Pinsky says that an open prostatectomy is a “brutal” surgery, which he was not ready to undergo at first. After his initial diagnosis, Pinsky went on active surveillance for two years, getting biopsied every six to nine months, as his doctor tracked the status of the disease. Originally, the plan was to go on surveillance for five to 10 years.
Although his father and uncle had prostate cancer, Pinsky considered his excellent health at age 53 and thought he was not at risk. “Oh, everyone gets it in their 70s, eventually I’ll get it too,” he figured.
Then, last summer, his doctor noticed his PSA level increase. Although Pinsky’s PSA was not in the “danger zone,” his doctor was concerned with the trend and further troubled by the exact location of his cancer. He recommended that it was time for Pinsky to undergo the surgery.
“By the book, I should have been sent away for a year, and they would’ve checked it in a year, and that would have gone on for a while. As opposed to somebody going, ‘Eh, that doesn’t feel right to me,’” Pinsky says of his doctor’s nuanced evaluation, the sort of case-by-case approach needed for prostate cancer treatment. “If you follow just some algorithm, I’d still be probably undiagnosed and by the time I was, I’d be in trouble.”
There are often zero symptoms for prostate cancer. “People think you go to doctors for their knowledge,” Pinsky says, venting some frustration. “You don’t go to doctors for their knowledge. You go to doctors for their judgment, their instinct, what to do, how to make the right call.”
Pinsky says men need to take more initiative seeking consultation, especially if a relative has had prostate cancer. At 40, every man should get a prostate exam. African-American men are the most at-risk. “They’re not getting it diagnosed early and they’re having more deaths from prostate cancer,” Pinsky cautions.
Pinsky acknowledges the risks of urinary and erectile dysfunction involved with the surgery. “Because it affects their junk, they’re flipped out about it,” he says bluntly of the hesitance to get checked out. He offers an anecdote that should encourage every man to face his own fears. Pinsky has overheard how his own physician persuades resistant patients. The patient will say, ‘Well, I won’t be able to have sex if I have this surgery.’ The physician fires back, ‘Well, you wont have sex if you die either.”
“Literally men are that concrete in thinking about it,” Pinsky says half-jokingly. Despite the burdensome rehabilitation process, Pinsky says the surgery is trustworthy. “Now they insert a robot into your body and the surgeon sits across from you in the room and does robotic surgery that preservers everything. And that’s remarkable. Again, in good hands—someone who’s done hundreds of these—you can expect a good outcome.”
Pinsky has made a full recovery. Although other patients may not recover so quickly as Pinsky did, to anyone nervous about the process, Pinsky divulges: “The erectile function is normal, sex drive is normal, bladder works normally. And I don’t have to worry about prostate cancer.”
The following is more information courtesy of the Prostate Cancer Foundation (www.PCF.org):
- 16 million men are prostate cancer survivors globally
- There are 2.6 million American men currently living with prostate cancer
- A non-smoking man is more likely to develop prostate cancer than he is to develop colon, bladder, melanoma, lymphoma, and kidney cancers combined.
What are the risk factors for prostate cancer?
- As men increase in age, there is an exponential increase in their risk of developing prostate cancer. More than 65% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. Although only 1 in 10,000 men under age 40 will be diagnosed, the rate jumps to 1 in 39 for ages 40 – 59, and to 1 in 14 for ages 60 – 69.
- In comparison with Caucasian men, African American men are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer, and are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease.
- The risk of developing prostate cancer is highest in men whose family members were diagnosed before age 65. Men with a father, brother, or son who has a history of prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease, while those with two or more close relatives are nearly four times as likely.
- In its early stages, prostate cancer presents few or no symptoms. However, some men will experience symptoms such as frequent, hesitant, or burning urination, difficulty in having an erection, or pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.
Can prostate cancer be cured?
- As with all cancers, “cure” rates describe the percentage of patients who remain disease-free for a specific time. In general, the earlier the cancer is caught, the more likely it is for the patient to remain disease free.
- Because approximately 90% of all prostate cancer is detected in the local and regional stages, the cure rate is very high. Nearly 100% of men diagnosed in this stage will be disease free after five years.
What is the Prostate Cancer Foundation doing to help fight the disease?
- Founded in 1993, PCF has raised more than $575 million and provided funding to over 2,000 research projects at nearly 200 institutions in 18 countries and territories around the world. The foundation has helped build a global research enterprise of nearly $10 billion.
- Many important prostate cancer discoveries made in the past 20 years are direct results of PCF funding or coordination, including the development of new medications, gene therapy approaches, and the development of vaccines that signal the body’s immune system to kill prostate cancer cells. As a result, the U.S. death rate from prostate cancer has declined nearly 40% from what it was once projected.