A survivor’s take on prostate cancer

New technologies, support, and awareness give hope

ONCE A MONTH, a small group of men meet at the Watson Clinic Cancer & Research Center. They all have one thing in common: they were each diagnosed with prostate cancer. “It’s a total shock when you hear that you have cancer,” says Vic Ingargiola, the support group leader. “It lessens your manhood, and when you hear the word ‘cancer’ you think you’re going to die, and that’s not true.”

Ingargiola was 66 years old when he was diagnosed. He chose radiation therapy and is now a 12-year survivor. “It’s a way we can get together and talk about our problems. If a new patient comes in, he will have a lot of questions. Sometimes he brings his wife and she’ll have more questions,” he adds. “So it’s a learning experience.” Sometimes the group hosts guest speakers such as dieticians or doctors, but many times it’s just the patients, sitting around discussing treatments, side effects, and the numerous issues that come with prostate cancer, such as erectile dysfunction and dysentery. “The guys that come in feel good because we support each other,” he observes.

Most of the group’s members are in their 70s and 80s, but there are also a few in their late 50s. The American Cancer Society estimates over 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men after lung cancer. African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer, and Asian men living in Asia have the lowest risk according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The older a patient is, the more likely he is to be diagnosed. The average age of diagnosis is 69 years, and the chances of developing it increase from that point on. For patients diagnosed 80 years or older, their doctor may recommend no treatment, but for those younger, prevention measures and early detection are key.

Like other types of cancer, many factors play a role in determining one’s risk. A man with a father or brother who developed prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease. And, that risk is increased if the cancer was diagnosed in family members at a younger age or if it affected several family members. There is also a link between where you live and your risk. Men living north of 40 degrees latitude (north of Philadelphia, PA) have the highest risk for dying of prostate cancer of any men in the United States. It’s believed to be due to a lack of sunlight during winter months, creating a vitamin D deficiency.

Practicing prevention can be achieved through certain lifestyle choices:

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Reduce fat from meat and dairy consumption.

• Watch your calcium intake. Avoid taking more than 1,500 mg of calcium a day.

• Eat more fish for omega-3 fatty acids.

• Try to incorporate cooked tomatoes that are cooked with olive oil, which has also been shown to be beneficial, and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower) into meals.

• Avoid smoking and drink alcohol moderately.

• Get medical treatment for stress, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.

Despite all the precautions or measures to eat right and exercise, John J. Singer IV, MBA, director of the Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center stresses that all men should get an annual prostate and colorectal screening starting at age 50. “The American Urological Association (AUA) recommends that men with average risk be offered screening by using a PSA test plus DRE for men 55– 70 years old,” Dr. Jens Carlsen, a urologist with Watson Clinic, elaborates. “For men between the age of 40 to 54, screening should be individualized.”

“Localized prostate cancer typically does not cause symptoms,” Dr. Carlsen adds, which is why screening is essential to early detection. “Advanced cancer may cause urinary obstruction, blood in urine or bone pain.” Early detection is key in containing and treating the disease, but the standard screening tests used can result in misdiagnosis and overtreatment.

When a patient has an elevated Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) reading, they may have a biopsy for confirmation on whether a cancerous tumor is present. But the biopsy may only detect a minor tumor, or overlook a more aggressive tumor. A new system has been developed to address this issue: UroNav Fusion Biopsy System. The commercial product is the result of nearly a decade of research and development, principally conducted at the National Cancer Institute. UroNav fuses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, producing a 3D view of suspected lesions. “UroNav combines magnetic resonance imaging with ultrasound to give our physicians greater accuracy when sampling suspicious tissue in male patients,” Singer explains. “It identifies prostate cancers not otherwise detected by standard prostate biopsy techniques, allows for fewer repeat prostate biopsies, and provides more accuracy when selecting men eligibly for therapy.” This way, the correct areas are treated while other regions are not over treated.

New technology, prevention, awareness, and a positive outlook are all giving patients and their families hope. Singer adds, “We encourage men in our community to pursue wellness and prevent cancer. Be proactive about your health. Eat well. Exercise. Know yourself and your family history. Choose knowledge and early detection over unsettled emotions and fear.” And for those who are diagnosed, there is plenty of support, information, and good days ahead. Ingargiola adds, “I’ve been lucky. My PSA has been normal the past 12 years. So, hopefully, it won’t come back.”


article by BONNY JOHNSON

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