General Interest

Prostate Cancer Surgery – An Informed Choice?

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My father officially died 18 months ago at age 89 – but life had changed dramatically for him 26 years earlier. Diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 63, he underwent a radical prostatectomy that left him both incontinent and impotent for the remaining 26 years of his life. He could no longer work (one peeing accident put an end to that), or frolic in the ocean with his grandchildren (or swim anywhere else for that matter). And every function to which he was invited was fraught with nervous anticipation. Would whatever device or contraption that was being used then “hold up” to the job – or would the humiliating telltale sign of failure appear. We who knew and loved him ached inside. But all of us – every single one of us – felt 26 years ago that he had no other option – if he wanted to live.

And now, along comes Dana Jennings and his very recent piece in the NY Times, “A Rush to Operating Rooms That Alters Men’s Lives.” Mr. Jennings is a prostate cancer survivor so he speaks with authenticity as he reviews the recently published “Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers.” And Jennings puts forward an amazing statistic: prostatectomy may extend the lives of only 1 patient in every 48. That means that only 2% of those undergoing this knife-wielding, life-altering procedure are going to live longer as a result of it.

A friend (let’s call him Harry) and I had quite the discussion about Jenning’s piece. Harry is outraged that so many men have suffered needlessly at the hands of, in his words, “greedy” surgeons. “Why weren’t these guys (the patients) informed of the facts – of the options?” Harry points to his two friends who both had the surgery – and who both swear that if they could go back and undo it, they would! But I think that Harry has swung a bit too far out of the mainstream. Harry has sworn off even having the testing done for prostate cancer. I share Harry’s outrage and concern for the patients (and their families) whose lives have been damaged. But Jennings, in his article, also speaks about informed, watchful waiting once there has been a diagnosis. Informed, watchful waiting may make a lot of sense, but it won’t happen without testing.

So, Iam urging all my dearly beloved men friends and relatives to have the testing done. You should, too. �Please remember, you have the power – and the right – to say “No” to the surgery, if that is your true, informed choice.

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