Jerry Howarth, in the radio booth, is using his well-known voice to speak up about prostate cancer. (Photo: Toronto Blue Jays)
By Jerry Howarth, the announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays
I have enjoyed living and working in Toronto for the past 35 years, calling Blue Jays games across our great country.
But I have also enjoyed just as much -- thanks to an invitation I accepted from my uro-oncologist Dr. Robert Nam -- sharing my story during the month of Movember in hopes of helping other men realize how valuable early detection is in fighting prostate cancer at the most treatable stages.
I enjoy my privacy, and might not have said anything about my upcoming prostate cancer surgery until I read a gentle and unassuming email request from Dr. Nam. In it, he asked me to share my story, to bring attention to the value of just how sophisticated MRIs are in finding that "hidden cancer," which, once found, can be treated properly and save lives. Like mine.
I used to think that MRI stood for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Now I know through personal experience that MRI really stands for Most Revealing Investigation -- an investigation that not only found advanced cancerous cells in my prostate gland, but a small tumour growing in there as well. I feel lucky and blessed to have had this kind of help in finding my cancer, after a previous biopsy four and a half years ago failed to show any cancer at all.
My advice to other men? "Just do it," as the Nike commercials have noted for years!
PSA testing is vital, too, and I started PSA screening about 10 years ago. Numbers were low until about five years ago when they advanced to four -- a cause for concern. This led to the first biopsy, which found nothing. Later, when my numbers continued to grow to 5 and 5.5, my family physician in Etobicoke, Dr. James Choe, referred me to Dr. Nam at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where I continued to have PSA blood work. When the PSA numbers advanced to six, then eight, then 10, it was time for my MRI, as noted by Dr. Nam.
This MRI was so significant, and led to a second biopsy that found the cancer and the tumour. This has led to my upcoming surgery to remove my cancerous prostate gland and the tumour.
I had no symptoms at all over the past 10 years, and while I still feel very good to this very day, thankfully -- through this early detection -- I have been able to keep my cancer at the Stage 1 level and not have it advance any further.
I wanted to use my voice and my 35-year platform calling Blue Jays games to make my prostate cancer story as well-known as possible, and to show the value of PSA blood work and biopsies. But even more importantly, I wanted to use my voice to help people appreciate the fact that MRIs are so sophisticated today, and how they are a blueprint for a doctor's success in treating prostate cancer patients like myself.
My advice to other men? "Just do it," as the Nike commercials have noted for years! Get your early detection started with all of the above. It certainly has helped me, and has maybe even saved my life, when I think of what may have happened had I ignored all of these wonderful opportunities to make a difference in my life. And now, perhaps, a difference in yours. Get screened. You'll be very happy you did.
If you have questions about PSA screening or prostate cancer, please speak to your family doctor.
Read more men's health tips from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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This year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routine prostate cancer screening for men of all ages, noting its small benefits compared to the harms, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "We think the benefit is very small," Dr. Michael LeFevre, a member of the task force, told NPR's Shots blog. "Our range is between zero and one prostate cancer death avoided for every thousand men screened," which is minuscule compared to lives saved for screenings for conditions like colorectal cancer. A study published at the beginning of the year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute seemed to back up the recommendations, noting that routine prostate cancer screening didn't seem to make a difference in the risk of dying from prostate cancer, Reuters reported. However, the American Society of Clinical Oncology issued advice after the USPSTF's recommendation, saying that whether a man gets routine prostate cancer screening should depend on his life expectancy. For example, men who aren't expected to live more than another 10 years should be discouraged from PSA testing, the Associated Press reported.
To add more to the research on prostate cancer screening, a study in the journal Cancer showed that routine PSA testing is linked with 17,000 fewer cases of the deadliest form of prostate cancer. "By not using PSA tests in the vast majority of men, you have to accept you are going to increase very serious metastatic disease threefold," study researcher Dr. Edward Messing, M.D., the chief of urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told WebMD. Specifically, researchers calculated that without routine prostate cancer screenings through PSA testing, 25,000 men would have been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer (a deadly form of prostate cancer where it has spread beyond the prostate to elsewhere in the body) in 2008, compared with the 8,000 who were actually diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer that year, WebMD reported.
Working the night shift is associated with a 2.77-times increased risk of prostate cancer, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study, conducted by Canadian researchers included 3,137 men with cancer and 512 men without cancer. The researchers also found that working the night shift raised the risk of lung, colon, bladder, rectal and pancreatic cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Surgery may not always be the best option for men whose prostate cancer is detected with an elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. For men with early prostate cancer who received a radical prostatectomy (prostate-removal surgery), 47 percent died after 12 years, while 49.9 percent of men who just underwent observation died after 12 years, ABC News reported. Plus 81 percent of men who underwent the radical prostatectomy experienced erectile dysfunction in the two years following, and urinary incontinence plagued 17 percent of the men, WebMD reported. However, ABC News did note that men whose PSA scores were extremely high -- above 10 -- benefited from receiving surgery, indicating that the study may suggest rather which men may benefit most from receiving a radical prostatectomy for their prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer patients who take aspirin could cut their risk of dying from the disease, Harvard researchers reported this year. The New York Times reported on the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which showed that taking aspirin cut in half the risk of dying of prostate cancer over a decade -- 8 percent of aspirin-nontakers died, compared with 3 percent of aspirin-takers.
Circumcision -- or the removal of a man's foreskin before he has sex for the first time -- is linked with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists found this year. The findings, published in the journal Cancer, shows that prostate cancer risk for men who are circumcised before the first time they have sex is 15 percent lower, compared with uncircumcised men. While Dr. Andrew Freedman, who is on the American Academy of Pediatrics' circumcision task force but was not involved in the study, found the findings thought-provoking, he told HuffPost in an earlier article that "this kind of epidemiological research -- how A affects B, and B affects C -- is very difficult to do and makes it very difficult to account for confounding variables."
Including pan-fried meat in your weekly meal rotations is linked with a higher risk of prostate cancer, University of Southern California researchers found. Specifically, men who eat one-and-a-half servings of red meat that's been pan-fried each week have a 30 percent increased risk of advanced prostate cancer. And men who eat two-and-a-half servings of the food have a 40 percent increased risk. Hamburger meat in particular -- compared with a red meat like steak -- seemed linked with the increased risk, according to the Carcinogenesis study. And while not a red meat, pan-fried poultry also seemed linked with the increased prostate cancer risk (while baked poultry was associated with a lower prostate cancer risk).
Genes could hold a clue to who will go on to develop aggressive prostate cancer, researchers found this year. Reuters reported on the Lancet Oncology study, showing aggressive tumors might be able to be predicted by two genetic "signatures": Researchers in Britain and the United States found that by reading the patterns of genes switched on and off in blood cells, they could accurately detect which advanced prostate cancer patients had the worst survival rates.
The risk of dying from prostate cancer is higher if you also have high blood pressure, European researchers found. Specifically, hypertension was linked with a 62 percent increased risk of dying for people with prostate cancer. "When we looked to see if the metabolic factors are related to an increased risk of getting or dying from prostate cancer we found a relationship with death from the disease and high blood pressure," study researcher Christel Haggstrom, of Umea University, told HuffPost UK. "There was also a link to high BMI but blood pressure had the strongest association to increased risk. The results for BMI are in line with previous findings in large studies."
Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research this year showed that drinking green tea could help ward off inflammation in men with prostate cancer who are about to undergo prostate-removal surgery. "Our study showed that drinking six cups of green tea affected biomarkers in prostate tissue at the time of surgery," study researcher Susanne M. Henning, Ph.D., R.D., of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, said in a statement. "This research offers new insights into the mechanisms by which green tea consumption may reduce the risk for prostate cancer by opposing processes such as inflammation, which are associated with prostate cancer growth."
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