Dr. Drew Pinsky Discusses the Lessons He Learned after Being Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer
As the host of the long-running syndicated radio show Loveline and Dr. Drew Midday Live on KABC radio, Dr. Drew Pinsky has shared his advice with thousands of people. And he’s helped thousands more as a board-certified internist and addiction-medicine specialist. But then, in 2011, when Dr. Drew was diagnosed with prostate cancer, it was his time to take advice and help from others—in this case, his wife, his internist and his urologist. My Hometown Health recently talked to Dr. Drew about his experience with prostate cancer, a disease that will affect one in nine American men.
How did you discover you had prostate cancer?
In the fall of 2011, after returning from a vacation in the Caribbean, I started having chills, sweats and a fever. It turned out I had the swine flu and pneumonia. Even after the symptoms passed, my wife, Susan, thought something was not quite right and insisted that I have a physical. That’s when I discovered my PSA (a blood test used to screen for prostate cancer) had jumped from one to four. That’s still normal, but the fact that it had become elevated was a concern. A digital rectal exam was performed, but nothing abnormal was found. But when my PSA levels remained high, a urologist ordered a biopsy that revealed I had prostate cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was low-grade and localized, and the tumor was located in the center of the prostate, which is why it wasn’t discovered during the rectal exam.
Were you surprised by the diagnosis?
I was. Even though my father and my uncle had prostate cancer, I was only 53 and in excellent health, so I didn’t think I was at risk.
How was the cancer treated?
My urologist recommended active surveillance, a process of monitoring the cancer closely with regularly scheduled biopsies and PSAs. The plan was to go on active surveillance for five or 10 years, but when my PSA levels increased again after about a year, both my urologist and I agreed it was time for surgery. The volume of the tumor had expanded, and it was headed toward the surface of the prostate, where it could start to spread.
What type of surgery did you have?
I chose to have a robotic-assisted prostatectomy that removed the entire prostate. The surgery was performed during the 4th of July holiday in 2013. I was home the next day and back to work in about 10 days, but it really took me about six months to get back to feeling normal. Because the surgery removed all of the cancer, I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
How was the surgery?
Well, it wasn’t fun. It’s major surgery. But I’ve made a full recovery. And I don’t have to worry about prostate cancer. I haven’t felt this good in a long time, and I’m taking better care of myself than ever before.
Tell us about your work with the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF).
My urologist was on the board of the PCF, and when he asked me to join, I jumped at the opportunity. Since the PCF was founded in 1993, it has raised more than $575 million and funded more than 2,000 research projects at nearly 200 institutions. During that time, the death rate from prostate cancer has dropped 50 percent. The research they are doing is amazing, including the development of new medications, gene therapy, and immune therapies that can signal the body’s immune system to kill prostate cancer cells. New breakthroughs are happening every month. For example, PCF recently announced the development of a new drug that delayed metastasis or death from prostate cancer by 22 months.
Any final thoughts?
The main message I want men to hear when they are diagnosed with prostate cancer is Relax. The five-year survival rate for localized prostate cancer in the United States is 99 percent. Every case is different. So find a doctor you trust and who will take the time to use his expertise and find the right treatment plan for your particular circumstance. Trust your doctor’s judgment and let your medical team do their job.