Prostate Cancer: Takeaways From A Governor's Diagnosis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton revealed Tuesday that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, a day after he collapsed during his State of the State speech.

Dayton, 70, (pictured) told reporters that his outlook is good and he expects to learn more after a follow-up consultation at Mayo Clinic next week to discuss his treatment options. The governor said he learned he had prostate cancer during his annual physical examination. A biopsy conducted last Wednesday confirmed the diagnosis, he said.

Early diagnosis of prostate cancer has been the subject of several studies over the past few months. New U.S. guidelines have attempted to prevent unnecessary and painful biopsies in men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. The better option in many men may be to watch and wait before undergoing surgery or other invasive treatment, say some research findings.

Moreover, the so-called PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test has not proven reliable, and it has resulted in thousands of men annually getting painful, invasive biopsies that may not have been necessary.

Research findings released this past November, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Surgery, shows that the new guidelines have indeed cut back on the number of procedures that men are undergoing.

But a separate study published in September found that early intervention can save lives – instead of opting to monitor early-stage prostate cancer. In the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, death rates from prostate cancer in men followed over 10 years were low overall. However, the disease was more likely to spread in the men who opted just to monitor their prostate cancer. About half the men who started with “active monitoring” opted for surgery or radiation at some point.

“At a median of 10 years, prostate-cancer–specific mortality was low, irrespective of the treatment assigned, with no significant difference among treatments,” the study’s authors stated. “Surgery and radiotherapy were associated with lower incidences of disease progression and metastases than was active monitoring.”

It is generally recommended that men starting at 50 or older should routinely undergo a digital-rectal prostate examination as part of a general screening, and it is still considered the most reliable initial test. The physician will feel the prostate for hard, lumpy or abnormal areas. Most men with a family history of prostate cancer should be screened earlier than age 50.

“The most important thing for men at this age is to get screened by their doctor, especially the physical exam,” said Antonio Muina, M.D., an oncologist with Miami Cancer Institute. “If prostate cancer is diagnosed early, there are several options that can be discussed with your doctor. Every treatment option depends on individual factors, including age and other underlying health conditions. And, of course, the progression of the disease.”

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