A Prostate Cancer Screening With Bill Ritter

I inherited several things from my father, like his ability to work hard and to fall asleep in less than a minute, and his unforgiving fondness for food.

I also may have inherited something else from him: a genetic predisposition for prostate cancer.

Dad died nearly eight years ago at 81 years old. Like a majority of older men, he had prostate cancer.

So, I get screened every year. More than 230,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, but early detection exponentially increases the chances of survival.

To emphasize the importance of getting annual tests, I shared my experience this year with "Good Morning America."

It took us longer to set up the camera equipment and the lights inside the exam room than it took for Dr. Isamettin Aral of Staten Island University Hospital to give me my exam.

Two things are included in the screening. First, there's a blood test to measure the levels of PSA, which stands for prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland.

A high PSA level could be a sign of prostate cancer and means that the doctor will need to investigate further.

The second part of the screening is the digital rectal exam. A lot of guys are nervous about it, but they shouldn't be. I wanted to show "GMA" viewers how fast it could be done. It is over faster than you can say "digital rectal exam."

I asked Aral why so many men were still cautious, nervous or hesitant to get these tests.

"I think there is a lot of uncomfortableness maybe with what the results themselves will bring," Aral said. "But more important, men are somewhat humbled when it comes to the second part of this exam, the digital rectal exam."

"But what's important for them to understand, by doing both blood tests and the simple process of physical examination, is we can prevent, we can diagnose, we can catch at a very early stage an important form of cancer," Aral said.

Aral recommends screening for all men older than 50 -- and that includes asymptomatic men who don't have any problems emptying their bladders.

Enough questions from me -- it was time for the digital rectal exam. This year, for added comfort, Aral put a pillow on the table that I could lean on. I leaned forward, and he inserted a gloved hand with a bit of jelly on it.

"I am examining the prostate -- both the right side and the left side," Aral said. "And I don't feel any lumps or bumps or abnormalities -- and very importantly, although you feel the pressure from my finger, you don't feel any pain, is that correct?"

I did feel a little bit of pressure from his hand inside me, but fortunately no pain. That was it, we were done with the exam.

"If you had felt something, what would have happened?" I asked Aral.

"I think it is important to share with the patient what you're finding in the examination," he said. "And also important, is just because there is a lump or a swelling, it doesn't mean what everyone is concerned about -- [that] there is a tumor in the prostate. It just means we are going to have to do a little more specific testing, probably a biopsy."

Without further testing, Aral says he wouldn't know whether the lump was cancerous.

"I wouldn't know it and unfortunately, if that were let go for a few years, you would probably have a situation that wasn't fixable, wasn't repairable," he said.

Putting on a blindfold and saying, "I don't want to know about it" -- the approach many people are tempted to take when it comes to their health -- certainly won't fix the situation.

"It won't make it go away," Aral said. "Unfortunately, we take treatable disease and make it untreatable."

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