Business magnate Warren Buffett recently announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that he would continue his normal routine while undergoing treatment. This announcement has raised awareness of prostate cancer in the American public. Prostate cancer, the second-most diagnosed cancer among men, has a survival rate of nearly 100 percent if detected early, as Buffett's was.
Prostate Cancer in the U.S.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly a quarter of a million new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year in the U.S., but will result in fewer than 30,000 deaths. Since prostate cancer is found in older men, it’s expected that the number of diagnosed cases will swell to nearly 400,000 annually as Boomers cross the 60 years of age barrier.
What Can Be Done?
The American Urology Society urges men over 40 to begin prostate screening exams. Patients should talk with their doctor about the best method and frequency of screening. However, early detection is important for proper management of the disease.
After diagnosis, there are several treatment options available for prostate cancer.
- Because prostate cancer is very slow-growing, some patients and their doctors choose active surveillance, or watchful waiting, as their first option. The patient and the affected area are closely monitored for signs that the cancer may be growing or changing. This option allows men to avoid the side effects and costs of other treatments.
- For men in good health who are still in the early stages of the disease, surgery may be a viable option. There are three options if a prostatectomy is decided upon: an open prostatectomy removes the prostate through a single long cut in the abdomen; laparoscopic surgery uses a laparoscope to locate and remove the prostate; and a perineal prostatectomy removes the scrotum through an incision between the scrotum and anus. Possible side effects include pain, permanent impotence and incontinence.
- High doses of radiation (X-rays) are used in radiation therapy to treat cancerous cells. This can be done either externally, with external beam radiation and/or 3-D conformal radiation therapy; internally (brachytherapy), in which a doctor places radioactive material inside the prostate; or a combination of the two. Possible side effects include tiredness, diarrhea, frequent and uncomfortable urination, impotence, nerve damage and damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.
- Proton therapy is a relatively new, FDA-approved procedure that also uses an external beam of radiation (protons, not X-rays) to treat cancer. An aperture is made for each patient's individual tumor, ensuring greater accuracy and a stronger dose of protons and sparing more healthy tissue than traditional radiation therapy. There are currently only nine facilities that offer this innovative treatment nationwide, but treatment centers like the IU Health Proton Therapy Center in Bloomington, Ind. are doing what they can to accommodate patients' needs.
Many were surprised at the news of Buffett's prostate cancer diagnosis, not realizing the prevalence of the disease among men. While many may dismiss this as “just another cancer story”, it highlights the importance of raising awareness about all kinds of cancer, especially that of the prostate. If you or someone you know has been affected by prostate cancer, please educate yourself as much as possible, in order to be able to make the most informed decisions possible.