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. 

Surviving Prostate Cancer: Bill’s Story

Bill-webMy name is Bill and I am a software engineer. In the fall of 2010, I was sitting on my father’s front porch in Milwaukee when I got the call confirming I had prostate cancer, the same disease that had killed my grandfather and was about to end my father’s life as well.

Because of my family history, for years I had regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests. The PSA level is often elevated in men with prostate cancer and in the years just prior to 2010, my numbers were going up. Some doctors adopt a “watch and wait” approach to rising PSA levels when there are no symptoms. But my doctor recommended I see a urologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating prostate cancer. I’m glad he did.

The urologist recommended a new gene-based test called a PCA3 and the results were “positive,” meaning there was a strong likelihood I had prostate cancer. A biopsy was needed for confirmation and during that operation, 17 samples of prostate tissue were removed. Three were found to contain cancer cells. The good news was that my cancer was detected early and confined to one part of my prostate. This meant that with proper treatment, my prognosis was excellent.

Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are all used to treat prostate cancer. After researching my options, I chose to have surgery at Virginia Mason because, as I learned, it’s one of the best places in the country for this type of operation. After I decided on Virginia Mason, I was also accepted into the clinical trial of a new treatment being tested as an adjunct to surgery. In the weeks prior to my operation, I visited Virginia Mason frequently as part of this clinical trial. With every visit, I felt more certain that I was in the best possible hands.

On the day of the surgery, everything went smoothly. My hospital stay and follow-up care were first rate. I actually returned to work after only three days off.

Today, I am considered cancer free. I am back to enjoying hiking, biking and kayaking. And while I continue to be monitored closely, my focus is not on cancer, but on the people I love: my wife and five children/stepchildren.

My life has changed in positive ways. I have more gratitude, more awareness that I want to enjoy the life God has given me, and more urgency to do things today, not tomorrow. I’m grateful for the care I received at Virginia Mason. And to the people who provided that great care, I send my heartfelt thanks.


This story originally appeared on Meet other patients who bravely shared their stories of fighting cancer, and get the latest information on cancer treatment outcomes and wellness and support at Virginia Mason.