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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Active surveillance for prostate cancer: The trader won the bet

Mike Steskal, a commodities trader who lives and works just outside Philadelphia, is 55 and was told last summer that he had prostate cancer after his doctor ordered a blood test for flu-like symptoms that happened to include a PSA test.  The PSA test looks for a protein linked to prostate cancers.  His PSA level was slightly elevated, which led to more tests, including a biopsy that showed a Gleason 6 cancer.  

He spent months seeing different doctors, most of whom recommended aggressive treatment because he is so young.  He also researched prostate cancer on the Internet and talked to men who had gone through various treatments.  Finally he chose active surveillance.

As part of the surveillance, he had two more PSA tests.  They came back with levels so low that no one would ever have suspected prostate cancer.  His higher level last summer was probably due to an infection, which can cause PSA levels to rise.  

“It was pure chance” that he got a prostate cancer diagnosis, Mr. Steskal said.  “That’s another thing that went into my decision.”  

Dr. Alan J. Wein, the Chief of Urology at the Perelman School of Medicine, advocates active surveillance for most men with low-risk cancers.  But he emphasizes that they should have a second biopsy within a year, followed by regular biopsies every year or two and regular PSA tests.  

“I tell patients, ‘This is a bet’”, he said. “You are betting that the disease is not going to progress, or if it progresses, you will be able to tell before it progresses to a situation where it less treatable.  You enhance the chances of winning the bet by doing a confirmatory biopsy.”

Ken’s comment:  The false positive PSA test led to a scary misdiagnosis, but Mike was wise to carefully consider the alternative to surgery.  

Thanks to Gina Kolata of the New York Times for the source story on May 24, “The Latest Trend in How to Treat Prostate Cancer:  Don’t.”  Read another story about decision-making on prostate cancer.

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