Prostate Cancer Screenings Help Save Lives

by Cathy Corcoran

for the Fall River Herald News


“When you first hear that word, ‘cancer,’ it comes as a shock,” said Eugene Toomey of Somerset. Diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago, Toomey says, “I was afraid I was going to die. Then I was afraid I’d have to wear diapers for the rest of my life.”


Toomey’s doctor, Dr. James Carroll of Urology Inc., Fall River, said, “Most men fear prostate cancer first, because it’s cancer; second, they’re afraid they’ll be incontinent; and third, they’re afraid they won’t have a sex life. But with early detection and treatment, men with prostate cancer can life long active happy lives.”


The prostate gland is a male sex gland about the size of a walnut located at the base of the penis below the bladder. Cancer of the prostate is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men in Massachusetts. Next to lung cancer, it kills more American men than any other cancer. Of an estimated 185,000 new cases this year, 35,000 to 40,000 men will die from prostate cancer.


The American Cancer society recommends that men over age 50 be screened each year for prostate cancer. African American men or men with a history of prostate cancer in their families should begin yearly screenings by age 40. Screening involved a digital rectal exam, and a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test.


“Thanks to the PSA , we’re finding many more prostate cancers at an early stage,” Dr. Carroll said. Carroll and other physicians from Urology Associates, Inc. will participate in free prostate cancer screenings on Wednesday, September 15 from 5:30 til 8:30PM at Charlton Memorial Hospital, and Saturday, September 18 from 9AM til 12 noon at HealthFirst Family Care Center, Fall River. The free screenings are sponsored by HealthFirst and South Coast Health Systems, and are intended for men who have no health insurance, or whose health insurance does not pay for a PSA blood test. Men with insurance are urged to have a digital exam and PSA test as part of their yearly physicals. For reservations for the free screenings, call 1-800-999-9999.


Symptoms of prostate cancer include frequent or painful urination, especially at night, difficulty starting or stopping the flow of urine, and pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, and thighs. But many men with prostate cancer have no symptoms until the disease has spread beyond the prostate gland, and those who do show these symptoms may not have prostate cancer at all. “All men experience the benign growth of the prostate as they get older,” Dr. Carroll said, “and 85% of men over age 55 get BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia. That’s why it’s so important that men be screened each year.”


A normal PSA reading is between zero and four. Eugene Toomey’s PSA fluctuated between three and four, so he was monitored every six months. When the reading went up to nine, he had a biopsy that detected early stage prostate cancer. For some older men with slow growing forms of the disease, physicians prescribe “watchful waiting,” or simple monitoring to make sure that the disease is not spreading rapidly. For men in good health with a life expectancy of more than ten years, more aggressive treatment is usually prescribed. This can involve surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of treatments.


“After I was diagnosed, I talked with men I knew who’d had prostate cancer,” Toomey said, “and decided that surgery was the best way for me to go.” Dr. Carroll performed a radical prostatectomy, the removal of the prostate gland, seminal vesicals, and vas deferens tubes. Common side effects of treatment are incontinence and impotence, but Dr. Carroll says he performs an average of 40 - 50 radical prostatectomies each year, and most men have little problem with incontinence after the procedure. He added that in cases where the man experiences impotence, his sexual functioning can be helped with Viagra or other drugs, injections, or even penile implants. “Most men can resume an active sexual lifestyle after treatment,” he said.


Although Toomey had minor problems with incontinence for a month after surgery, his initial fears proved unfounded. He has made an excellent recovery and says he’s “perfect!” now. “No diapers, and everything’s fine,” he says. “I feel terrific!”


Toomey says he believes that most men don’t want to go for prostate cancer screening or even think about the disease. “Let’s face it, it can be embarrassing,” he said. He credits former Senator Bob Dole, General Norman Schwartzkopf, and golfer Arnold Palmer for helping to spread the word and urge men to be screened. All three have undergone prostate cancer surgery in recent years.


“I think men are less reluctant to talk about prostate problems now than in the past,” Toomey said. “No one likes to think about it, but I have a great life with my wife, my children, my grandchildren. I’m so glad I caught my disease in time. I’d urge every man to be screened for prostate cancer.”