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Talk To the Men In Your Life About Prostate Cancer

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

DrDonnica.com focuses on women's health issues, so we haven't discussed prostate cancer. . .yet.  But as we celebrate Fathers' Day, we realize that the health of the men in our lives is often as important to us as our own.  And we know that sometimes-just sometimes!-the men in our lives need a little "coaching" when it comes to taking care of their own health.  Since 1995  Joe Torre has managed the NY Yankees. Now Torre is joining another winning team - the Prostate Cancer Foundation and its founder Michael Milken--to coach men into learning about America's second-most common cancer.

Both Torre and Milken have stood in and faced down prostate cancer.

"In 1999 when I was first diagnosed I had no symptoms," says Torre, who has led the Bronx Bombers to four World Series championships. "It was a routine check up and my doctor caught it through my PSA test. When my prostate was removed, it was actually very normal looking. That's why they call it a silent killer."

But Torre and Milken are keeping anything but silent, especially this Father's Day.

"My daughter was about three years old when I was diagnosed and that really hits you," Torre explains. "You want to be around for her and that was my first concern and fear. Then I realized that if I had retired no one would have known about what happened and that I had an opportunity to help people."

"Joe has had a real impact on awareness and exemplifies what a leader can do," Milken says. "He has testified before Congress with me and Bob Dole. And traveled and spoken a lot about this disease. And he's been very instrumental in getting all the other managers signing on for this year's CaP CURE Keep Dad in the Game Home Run Challenge."

The HRC raises money for each home run hit in 60 select MLB games between June 6 and Father's Day June 15. Information about contributing is available at the Yahoo homepage or the Prostate Cancer Foundation's website.

Team effort

In one of the first weekend's match-ups, Torre and the Yankees faced Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs, who denied Roger Clemens his 300th career victory.

"The game was particularly memorable because both managers, Joe and Dusty Baker, have survived prostate cancer," Milken states.

"That's right, when Dusty was diagnosed he called me right away," Torre says. "He wanted to get the perspective from someone he knew. It helps put you at ease a bit. It lets you know that you can have a good outcome from a prostate cancer diagnosis."

"I know when you hear the word cancer you immediately think it's a death notice," Torre adds. "You black yourself out and go numb and get depressed but thanks to my friend Mike Milken he was able to put it in perspective and let me know there's a lot of life out there."

And a lot of Dads who are alive today thanks to improved prostate cancer treatments.

Prostate cancer affects 30% of American men over 50 - or about 10 million men. Prostate cancer seems to have an even stronger hereditary prevalence than breast cancer. If you have a first degree relative with prostate cancer, you have a two and a half times greater incidence. If you have two relatives, it increases to 5 times greater risk. And if you have three relatives, the incidence is nearly 100%.

An estimated 189,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002. More than 29,000 American men will die this year from the disease, with one out of every six men being at lifetime risk for prostate cancer.

But only a short time ago the news was substantially grimmer.

"The death rate had fallen substantially from projected levels," Milken notes. "It's a dramatic drop more than any other cancer and because of this there are probably 80,000-90,000 men who are  alive today."

PSA test

Much of the credit is due to the prostate specific antigen blood test to assist in early detection of the disease. The PSA test measures levels of an enzyme produced by the prostate gland.

"The PSA blood test has changed everything from diagnosis to treatment," says Dr. Stuart Holden, medical director of CaP CURE. "That, along with increased awareness, has led to the early diagnosis and the declining death rates. The beauty of it is we can also use it after treatment to check whether we got all the cancer. If you got every cancer cell, the blood test should be zero."

When it comes to treatment, Holden says there are more options than ever before.

"The gold standard in the treatment of any cancer is to diagnose it early," notes Holden, who is also director of the Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "When you diagnose it early, generally the gold standard is surgery because if we catch it early when the cancer is localized to the organ of origin and cut out that cancer we're going to cure that cancer."

According to Holden, Milken did not have surgery because his cancer had spread outside of the prostate and he was therefore not a candidate for surgery.  Instead, Milken had radiation and also hormone therapy. Milken, himself, also credits major lifestyle changes, particularly in his diet for helping him beat prostate cancer.

"Clearly, there are dietary factors that are tremendously important here," Holden says. "How they actually work is what we are really focusing on. But these lifestyle changes are very empowering to patients and we know it's also good for cardiovascular health."

"I didn't really need to make a lot of lifestyle changes because I was already on a low fat diet because heart disease runs in my family," Torre says. "But I have definitely improved on my diet, in large part thanks to Mike. I am eating a lot more soy. In fact, every game in the fifth inning I have my soy shake."

Future stars

Holden explains that over the last 15 years the surgery for prostate cancer - called a radical prostatectomy - has improved dramatically.

"Now it's a 1-2 day hospitalization," Holden adds. "It's relatively painless. The incidence of complications, such as incontinence and impotence, has been greatly reduced by better technique."

The other treatment options include internal radiation, external radiation, hormone therapy and cryosurgery. On the horizon Milken and Holden say that anti-angiogenesis factors and a prostate cancer antibody look promising.

"The key is men need to know we can do something about prostate cancer but it starts with taking care of your health and getting a your PSA checked, especially if this disease is in your family or you're over 50," Torre advises. "Don't be afraid of it. You can't get checked too soon because even if your test indicates you don't have it, you can use your this information to track and stay on top of your health."

"Going to the ball game with your father is a great American tradition," Milken says. "This is our seventh Home Run Challenge. Last year we raised about four million dollars for research and treatment. We hope everyone will join us because ultimately, we want to find a cure."

As for Father's Day wishes: 

"That prostate cancer will no longer be a threat to life in the next three to five years because of the research and funding that's accrued here," Milken says.

"I just hope we contribute more to the HRC this year than the other teams we're playing," Torre quips.

• The Prostate Cancer Foundation & CaP CURE

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 6/13/2003  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/13/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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