Alonzo Mourning had prostate removed, urges checks for men

June 3, 2024, 11:59 AM

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame center Alonzo Mourning underwent surgery to remove his prostate after a diagnosis of Stage 3 prostate cancer, Mourning told ESPN.

Additional testing revealed that the cancer did not spread beyond his prostate capsule, and his mid-March procedure has left him cancer-free.

In an interview with ESPN, Mourning -- a seven-time All-Star, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist in his 15-year career -- described how routine prostate cancer screening played an enormous role in the discovery and treatment of a cancer form that kills 1 in 44 men in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Those statistics and his own experiences have made Mourning, 54, determined to be an advocate for at-risk men 45 years and older to get regular PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood tests to monitor themselves for the cancer. At-risk candidates include Black men and those with a history of prostate cancer in their family. Most men can start screening at 50 years old.

"What scares me about this disease is that there are so many men walking around feeling great and have that cancer in them and they don't know it," Mourning told ESPN. "The only way to find out is to get their blood tested and get their PSA checked. There are 3.3 million men living in the U.S. with prostate cancer, and many don't even know it. I was one of those guys."

Mourning, a fierce competitor who resumed his NBA career after a successful kidney transplant 21 years ago, recounted how a random conversation at a social event three years ago made him mindful to begin regular visits to a urologist in South Florida. In the back of Mourning's mind, he knew there was a history of prostate cancer in his family -- including his father and a grandfather -- and how those contributed to statistics that made him even more vulnerable to a positive diagnosis.

In late 2022, Mourning's urologist, Dr. Maury Jayson, told him that his PSA scores were "creeping up." A rise in PSA scores can be a warning sign of prostate cancer, so the doctor set an MRI screening on his prostate -- which revealed some "shadows" in the imaging and necessitated a biopsy for Feb. 23, Mourning said.

Soon after, Dr. Sanoj Punnen, a urologic oncologist at the University of Miami, called Mourning with the news that he had a Gleason score of eight -- which reflected a high grade of prostate cancer.

"And Dr. Punnen tells me, 'I want to get a PET scan immediately to make sure cancer hasn't spread through your body,'" Mourning told ESPN. "I was in shock. I can't tell you enough about how well my body felt. I was in top-notch shape -- running sprints, strong. The doctor told me that he couldn't believe I had had a kidney transplant.

"My partner, Mariona, is waiting for me outside the PET scan, and we are nervous as hell. I'm sitting in the machine with my arms over my head and my mind racing -- waiting for the technician to read the scan. We ended up in a cold waiting room waiting for the tech to come in and finally he looks at us and says he's got good news: The cancer is still in the [prostate] capsule and hasn't spread."

Mourning, who's been a part of the Miami Heat's front office as director of player programs and development since his retirement in 2008, has been rehabilitating and returning to normal after his prostate procedure with Dr. Vipul Patel in Orlando in March. That procedure allowed the removal of his cancer before it could spread outside of the capsule.

Localized and regionalized prostate cancer treatment have a five-year relative survival rate of 99%, according to the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer among men in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Life was good and amazing for me, but if I had ignored getting checked and let this go, the cancer would've spread through my body," Mourning said. "Unfortunately, as men, we don't like to go to the doctor, but this is the only way to find out what's going on in your body. Prostate and even colon cancer are silent killers and many men won't get those diagnosis until it's too late.

"We live in a world where it's taboo among men to talk about health issues. If I didn't get routine checkups, I probably wouldn't be here to talk about this. I want men to be proactive with their health."

For more information on prostate cancer screening and treatment, go  here.