Prostate Cancer: Stopping Silence, Saving Lives

Routine conversations and screenings with your doctor can mean the difference in survival.
12:57 | 02/13/13

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Transcript for Prostate Cancer: Stopping Silence, Saving Lives
It's the cancer no one talks about but this year it will kill almost 30000 men. All told over a 100000 new cases will be diagnosed. And in their lifetime one out of eleven men living today he will contract prostate cancer. With the added tragedy here is that most victims could live. But because the prostate gland as part of the male reproductive system many men don't wanna talk about -- silence breeds ignorance which can bring death. Tonight as he has so often ABC news medical editor doctor Timothy Johnson brings us news to save lives -- men need to hear it. But it may be up to the women in their lives to make sure the message hits home. It is -- -- the kind of conversation most men look forward to. If you -- difficulty with your prostate you know with urination and the kind of questions that are sure to follow can often make a man squirm in his chair. -- can get up at night. Yes. Well sometimes. Walter -- in order to three times. Actually it's somewhat understandable why men are reluctant to talk about such matters as urinary problems. But the fact is that that reluctance and the avoidance of a yearly rectal exam. Contributes to tens of thousands of deaths from prostate cancer every year in this country. Therefore all men and their families need to know as much as they can about this plan beginning with the -- It is not the prostrate gland that's what you do when you fall on the ground in prayer. There is only one are in prostate PE RO ST a TE. Now some and -- The prostate gland is a walnut shaped gland located beneath the -- its function is to contribute to -- the mail the jacket. Unfortunately the gland also surrounds the beginning of the year -- -- the tube that carries urine from the Blatter via the penis. If the gland enlarges. As it does to some degree and almost all men after age fifty. It can squeeze that you -- throw and produce typical symptoms as described by doctor -- -- bond chief of urology at Cornell New York hospital. I think -- about the symptoms and two categories one pladich irritability that is you have to go frequently. Urgently. When you come into your apartment keys turned back door knob in dash to the bathroom. The others are symptoms of obstruction go into the bathroom stand -- for -- journal. Nothing happens. And you wait X number of seconds and then eight dinky stream appears. But far more dangerous than this common benign enlargement is the development of prostate cancer which starts as a microscopic growth. That if not detected and removed can spread over a period of many years beyond the gland to bones and lymph nodes throughout the body. Bobby Riggs winner of Wimbledon in 1939 is best known for his 1973. Challenge tennis match against Billie Jean King. Which was widely billed as a battle of the sexes. Today at age 72. Bobby Riggs is engaged in a battle for his life. I caught it fairly intact but I was foolish. -- in my -- -- down. -- to go to a doctor and and and find out about that what Bobby Riggs is talking about is the fact that he waited until age 72 have. The second rectal exam of his life. Which was fifteen years after his only other replica -- And next time -- -- examination which just by accident I was down at the La Jolla beach and tennis club playing tennis and doctor John Steele. Bush and Iraq are just he was there I was tell me -- I keep happening -- the bathroom -- and I did this fifteen years ago. And letting guys that was okay but you know I kind of think I should have bag -- -- -- -- by around my -- you get into my office tomorrow. That exam led to the diagnosis of cancer and a second opinion from a leading prostate cancer -- The news was not good apparently the cancer was too far advanced for simple surgical removal of just the -- Meaning that -- would have had to Wear a bag to collect -- And they figured tennis player. Act he would have to weigh bags the -- every time you surely don't talk like best defense. You would leak a little bit too you have to Wear back I -- to wander back surgery he said. Without. Instead -- spent two months in early 1988 having radiation treatments like this. However even after the treatment his cancer which had spread beyond the -- remains. So -- had to face the recommendation to remove his testicles one of the ways to cut down the supply of the male hormone testosterone. That was fueling the growth of his cancer. When they tell you that's gonna happen period some -- -- I'd rather be -- it now. But guy I have a lot to live for I have lots of tennis classic golf have a lot of great friends great family. And so I took a philosophically I took it well. Bobby Riggs story is a dramatic reminder of how important it is to catch prostate cancer before it has spread beyond the -- And there are some new tests which are being promoted for just that purpose. -- well there's two -- of her for surgery -- -- nationally syndicated cartoonist Jim Barry 858. Was far more fortunate than Bobby -- Even though he had no urinary symptoms and his prostate felt normal when he at an annual check up last spring. His doctor ordered a relatively new blood test designed to detect prostate cancer at a very early -- The test is called the prosthetic specific antigen test or PSA for short. When the blood test came back slightly elevated biopsies of -- prostate gland were taken. And when the urologist called Berry could not believe his ears. -- Are sort of -- mr. very what do you malignancy or prostate. Where -- press I couldn't believe this is happening -- I'm too young for less -- haven't. This the kind of thing that happens to other people. It's really -- -- eventually found his way to pioneering prostate surgeon doctor Patrick Walsh of Johns Hopkins. And just three and a half weeks ago he underwent an operation pioneered at Hopkins a so called nervous -- radical props detective. That is. An operation designed to remove the entire prostate gland while saving the nearby nerves that control urine flow and the ability to have -- The sensation of ejaculation will also remain intact even though no semen can be produced which means that the mail is no longer fertile. This is an operation that is done only when the cancer is still confined to the gland itself. For years the problem with radical -- the tech leeward side effects problems with urinary control and problems with sexual dysfunction. However over the last ten years some anatomical discoveries. Have reduced those side effects so today a man who undergoes radical -- -- to me. Can undergo what without great fear of having a major complication of the time of surgery. And with the expectation of having an excellent quality of life thereafter. Given this dramatic reduction in surgery complications in recent years most urologists feel that for the younger man in good health. Whose cancer has not spread beyond the prostate gland surgery offers a better chance for a long term cure than does radiation. However the possibility of curing prostate cancer depends very much on detecting it as early as possible. As happened with Jim there -- he's fine. Everything came out beautifully and -- those refined. The tumors completely. It couldn't have done better. They're going to be -- So if the goal is to detect prostate cancers as early as possible preferably even before symptoms occur. -- the question obviously becomes how best to do that. Today the standard answer is to have a rectal exam every year beginning at age forty certainly beginning at age fifty. But the truth is that as good as the rectal exam is in allowing the doctor to feel the prostate gland. It will miss some early cancers. So why not routinely do the blood test the Jim Berry -- looking for elevated levels of -- -- specific antigen. Doctor -- says the answer depends on your perspective. Obviously if you're -- patient. Is minimum symptoms. And your doctor picks up an elevated level. And you get an ultrasound biopsy. And that shows. Tumor and is localized you erratic -- -- -- -- -- and you're -- You're damn glad he did that screening test. Unfortunately if every male over age fifty -- to have this blood test annually the cost of the health care system would be enormous. -- studies are underway to determine just how best to use the test. On a cost effective basis. Also current PSA tests can sometimes be normal even when a cancer can be felt during a -- -- -- -- now -- that's been going inside of Iraq. Another test being promoted for the early detection of prostate cancer is the use of an ultrasound probe in the rectum to visualize the prostate plan. However according to doctor -- and others current ultrasound examinations -- two major problems for screen. Only about 15%. Overall all the lesions that are seen an ultrasound we'll be proven to be cancer. Secondly. Ultrasound. Misses a -- half. Of the significant sized cancers that are really present so it misses many and what a diagnosis something it is only infrequently cancer. So what should demand do about the early detection of prostate cancer when he gets his forties or -- fifty well. After talking to many experts I think I can fairly summarize their advice -- files for sure have an annual -- exit its quick. And not nearly as uncomfortable as many men fear. And the blood test for cancer the prosthetics specific antigen test is hard to ignore because it may offer the chance. To find -- cancer even before it can be felt during a rightfully. -- ultrasound most experts would say that it is not yet accurate enough to use in routine screen though it may be useful in other ways. Just a week after his surgery Jim Berry is recovering nicely even drawing cartoons that reflect his recent brush with death. His message to the public in words is also clear. If there are men out there -- -- audience to. Might be procrastinating about saying their doctors -- -- getting a regular physical. That they should go because. There is technology today which can help. Everyone. Two. To lead a normal life. And Bobby Riggs currently free of cancer is able to enjoy life visiting friends -- -- did during the recent US open in New York. But he is always ready to tell others what he has alert. It's not a problem if we'll stay on top of it and it will take care of it felt by all means I urge you please. Player owns selfless thank -- your family your -- and people. Please you men out there have a cross examination once every year once she reached 354045. -- -- -- that. When he knows where it is pretty serious Timothy blood testers who goes so good why is a rectal examinations to recommend -- well but what this -- not perfect you can have a perfectly normal test and still have cancer and in that case the rectal exam might well pick up the cancer. But even if we did develop a perfect bloods tests some -- The would be good reason to still -- rectal exams you can detect rectal cancer and you can test stool for hidden blood so that test will never go. This -- from -- -- run in families it does if you have close male relatives with a history of prostate cancer particularly at an early age. Your risk is increased but the truth is that all men are at risk one out of eleven and we'll get it you shouldn't think that much about -- history you should just be concerned that you might get it. And -- rectal examination is embarrassing to both men and women but it is true that Menem are apparently more shy about that some women welcome we have kind of a joke among doctors if you send a woman -- to get undressed she will go -- and get undressed if you -- to get -- -- come in and find that he's just taken -- time off. If there is absolutely that shyness and that's why we said and you said women get your men in their for this exam -- very important report. Thank you very much to him.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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