Prostate Cancer Curable with Early Detection

Some people dread their annual medical examinations, but not Doug Holbrook. He knows his annual executive physical saved his life. The doctor administering the first physical gave Doug, who was 45 at the time, the option of skipping the prostate screening because of his age. Doug, however, thought it made sense to take advantage of every test offered. This first test established a baseline measure of his prostate-specific antigen (PSA level).


Doug Holbrook

The prostate is a small gland located just below the bladder. The PSA test measures the level of PSA proteins in the blood that are produced by the prostate. For this test, a blood sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis. The blood level of PSA is often elevated in men with prostate cancer. In addition to prostate cancer, a number of benign (noncancerous) conditions can cause also a man’s PSA level to rise including inflammation and enlargement of the prostate.

Most doctors considered PSA levels of 4.0 ng/mL and lower as normal. In general, however, the higher the PSA level, the more likely it is that patient has prostate cancer. A continuous rise in the PSA level over time may also be a sign of prostate cancer, which is what Doug experienced.

Over the next year and a half his PSA levels increased. A biopsy of his prostate confirmed he did have cancer.

“We routinely cure prostate cancer when it is detected early,” says John M. Corman, MD, urologist and medical director of Virginia Mason’s Perioperative Unit. “That is why it is important for men over age 50 to discuss PSA-based prostate cancer screening with their primary providers and, when appropriate, to have yearly evaluations to rule out the disease.” Screenings include the PSA blood test and a physical examination.

After hearing his diagnosis, Doug was presented with several treatment options, including watch and wait, focused radiation or laparoscopic radical prostatectomy (LRP), a minimally invasive technique used to remove the prostate.

Doug chose the prostatectomy. “For me the choice was simple, as soon as I knew it was inside me, I wanted it out.” Six months after the surgery, he was symptom free and back to his busy life, traveling internationally for his company, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling and walking his two Labrador Retrievers. He continues to live a healthy life and is sure to make time for his annual physical.

A version of this story also appears in the Virginia Mason Health System 2018 Annual Report. 

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