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Loma Linda Doctor Urges Early Screening During Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. In this report, KVCR’s Benjamin Purper speaks to a prostate cancer patient and doctor about the importance of early screening.

When Michael Saunders first found out about his prostate cancer, he was in denial. 

Saunders: "I treated it like any other man would, I think. Total denial and told the doctor that he had to re-do it. And he was a very strong man to take all the beating I gave him verbally about, this is wrong, I don't have cancer, there's nothing wrong with me, what's wrong with you, your test results are bad, you know. But after a half hour he convinced me I did indeed have cancer and that I needed to take care of it, I needed to move on past the denial and into deciding how to get treatment for it. So I was shocked. Quite frankly, I was shocked and dismayed.”

So, Saunders got his prostate removed. 

Saunders: “And it was supposed to be one and done, remove the prostate, your PSA or your prostate specific antigen drops to zero and you're done. That is not what happened with me, I had prostate cancer spread beyond the prostate, they actually found a little bit of cancer in a nearby lymph node, and so my PSA dropped but it wasn't down to zero like it should be. So it meant I had cancer outside of the prostate.”

After some more surgery was unsuccessful in removing the cancer, Saunders went through radiation therapy. 

Saunders: “Radiation did eliminate the cancer, and I went to zero when everybody was happy and enthusiastic, and so for the next two years after that I was monitored. And unfortunately about two years ago I guess now - maybe a year ago - cancer's came back again. And I have active prostate cancer now, and nobody really knows where it's at, and we are scratching our heads again as to what the next steps are. That's kind of my story of where I am today.”

Saunders says much of this could have been avoided had he gone in for a screening earlier.

Saunders: “As men, we need to get tested for prostate cancer, and we need to do it earlier rather than later. And in my case I waited too long, and I had prostate cancer that spread in other areas of my body other than the prostate. And it would've been a much better outcome for me - although my outcome is very good right now - but it would've been a much better outcome had I been tested.”

Herbert Ruckle is a urologist with Loma Linda University Health. He agrees with the importance of early screening. 

Ruckle: “When you follow screening guidelines and you are able to make an early diagnosis by following the guidelines, the patient will have better prospects and more options. “

Ruckle says men age 55 to 70 should get screened for prostate cancer. 

Ruckle: Prostate cancer screening is now recommended and makes a positive difference. And that would be starting the general recommendation by the American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society would be to screen men age 55 to 70.”

Ruckle says there’s a range of options available to patients who find out they have prostate cancer, including hormonal therapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound, radiation therapy, and more.

Ruckle: “So that's quite a portfolio or a menu of options that you would have depending on the patient's age, their overall health, the cancer burden that they have, the aggressiveness of the cancer, what their own desires and priorities are.”

According to Ruckle, Loma Linda is the only hospital in the Inland Empire to offer a treatment called SPACE-OAR. 

Ruckle: “We're recently doing something for our patients who choose to have radiation therapy where we, in the office, inject something called SPACE-OAR which is a hydrophilic gel that goes between the prostate and the rectum so they can give a higher dose of radiation to that area and not injure the rectum.” 

Ruckle also says one of the best ways to avoid problems with prostate cancer is to lead a healthy lifestyle. 

Ruckle: “The holistic aspect of being healthy is really important. Having a healthy diet, getting moderate exercise, and trying to be healthy, that really benefits - that decreases the risk of prostate cancer, it increases prostate cancer survivorship.”

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