‘No man in Maine should die from embarrassment’

Posted Sept. 08, 2009, at 6:27 p.m.

Early detection saves lives. I’m living proof.

After experiencing an abnormal heart rhythm one cold winter day in 2007, my primary care doctor ordered a full battery of blood tests. Although my heart was normal and I needed to lose a few pounds, I learned from my doctor that I had an elevated level of PSA, prostate specific antigen, the “marker” that is used to help determine whether a man may have prostate cancer. The PSA blood test and digital rectal exam are two powerful tools in the diagnosis of prostate cancer.

After a repeat blood test two months later showed another elevation of my PSA, a biopsy was completed. It indicated the dreaded news that no man wants to hear — I did, indeed, have prostate cancer.

At the young age of 44, I had a multitude of treatment options — surgery, radiation, or simply “watchful waiting” or active surveillance. After seeking second and third opinions from urologists around Maine, and frequent conversations with my wife, I opted for a robotic-assisted prostatectomy right here in Bangor at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

On Halloween Day 2007, I had the surgery and have been cancer-free ever since. I fully expect to live a long, healthy life with regular checkups from my urologist and a significantly changed outlook on the role of stress, diet and exercise in healthful living. I worry less now, make better food choices and don’t postpone joy.

Too few people know that one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime and that it is the most diagnosed cancer among men. More than 80 percent of prostate cancer in Maine men is diagnosed at the earliest possible stage. Those diagnosed in local or regional stage have a 100 percent chance of sur-vival after five years while cases diagnosed at the advanced stage, when the cancer has spread, have only a 33 percent chance of survival after five years.

No man in Maine should die from embarrassment because he opted not to see a doctor for problems related to a change in urination patterns. Survival rates are on the rise because men are more willing to get tested earlier and rid themselves of the disease should they be diagnosed with it. While some organizations recommend age 50 for the first PSA test, recent evidence suggests that it is wise to get tested beginning at the age of 40, especially if you have a history of prostate cancer in your family or are of African-American descent. Talk to your doctor about your options and what makes sense for you.

I’m grateful that my doctor was on the ball and did a PSA test for me when I was 44. His actions helped me avoid a potentially devastating outcome for me, my wife and my teenage sons. Men, give your family the same gift by seeing your doctor about PSA and digital rectal exams.

It very well could save your life.

Jonathan Henry lives in Hampden and is the dean of enrollment services at the University of Maine at Augusta. He is the facilitator of the monthly Prostate Cancer Support Group at Eastern Maine Medical Center and a board member of the Maine Coalition to Fight Prostate Cancer.

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