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Al Roker’s Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Prompts Question: When Did You Last Get Checked?

November 10, 2020

Al Roker’s recent announcement of his prostate cancer diagnosis is a perfect example of why men in his demographic need to visit their doctor for regular exams. If cancer is found and discovered early enough, it can be managed and potentially cured. The red flag that arises during the routine screening and lab test concerns the PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, but there are also other tests that can be run with new technology to arrive at a diagnosis. For the many men who remain hesitant or anxious about a rectal exam and prostate check — especially African-American men who don’t obtain regular screenings and therefore die of this cancer in greater numbers — Roker’s diagnosis is a wake-up call with this message: Come in and get checked.  

Just how widespread is prostate cancer? About 1 in 9 American males will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime, and the average time frame for diagnosis is Roker’s exact age, 66, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The exam itself takes just a few seconds, and yet many men remain reluctant to get one, often due to worries about what the doctor might find, but also about the exam itself.  

When to Discuss Screening with Your Doctor

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men after skin cancer and can be treated when caught early. When to start screening depends on your family history and demographic, per the following American Cancer Society recommendations:     

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer 

  • Age 45 for men at high risk (African Americans and men who have a father or brother diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65) 

  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk (those with more than one close relative who had prostate cancer before 65)

Standard Screening Meets New Technology 

The great upside about technology now is that we don't just base a diagnosis on the lab test. There are other methods we can take, such as an MRI, to figure out if your PSA number elevated for normal reasons or if it is high because of cancer. Once you get the lab test, your doctor may recommend an MRI, which takes 30 minutes to an hour, and your entire prostate is scanned. This allows your doctor to look at tiny spots in your prostate, and determine whether those are normal or not. Some of these patients will also get a biopsy, but when we're able to use an MRI, the technology is like using a Google Maps for your prostate. We're able to get to a much more high-powered biopsy and clearer picture of what’s going on.

The use of long-established screening techniques and new technology likely got Al Roker to where he is today with an early diagnosis of prostate cancer. 

Treatments

There are many different types of treatments for prostate cancer. Most procedures are now done under robotic assistance. If you have your prostate removed completely — which is what Roker is doing — tiny incisions are made in your belly, and then the prostate is removed using the arms of the robot. This is how most prostates are removed worldwide today. But regardless of whether you go this treatment route or another, the sooner you're diagnosed or treated, the better chance that you may live a normal life moving forward.

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