In the old model of prostate cancer care, you were rushed into radical treatment--usually surgery or radiation--often without fully understanding all your options, or the risks and side effects involved. The entire process was focused on the tumor; minimal attention was given to you as a person, and little effort was made to explore the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices, immune-enhancing treatments, reasonable delays, and emotional support.
The emerging new model of prostate cancer care recognizes the important role you can, and should, play in your recovery. The emerging model comprehends that simply attacking the cancer is not enough. Greg Anderson, who after surviving "terminal" lung cancer founded the Cancer Recovery Foundation, has said that "Retaining a medical team without doing everything you can to help yourself is like attempting to walk on one stilt."
So what do you need to know in order to take charge of your recovery?
There are three common misperceptions about prostate cancer:
*The assumption that the disease is as dangerous as other cancers.
*The assumption that the urologist who did your biopsy is a prostate cancer expert.
*The assumption that a quick treatment decision is necessary before the cancer spreads.
First of all, prostate cancer is unique among cancers because the mortality rate is so low. Around two hundred thousand men in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with the disease every year, and less than 3% will eventually die from it, while a majority of men who have the far more common low-risk, slow-growing prostate cancer can anticipate living a normal life span, or dying of something else.
Your local urologist has a busy medical practice that involves treating problems like impotence, infections, incontinence, and kidney stones. He also does biopsies. But the average urologist performs fewer than five prostate removals (prostatectomies) a year--far too few to be considered proficient. He may be a talented doctor, but he is unlikely to be a prostate cancer expert. So once you have your biopsy results, it is best to consult a prostate cancer specialist, either at a major medical center, or at a high-volume prostate cancer clinic.
As for the third misperception, it is essential, before committing to any form of treatment, that you do your own research, and are convinced the treatment you choose is the right one for you. Do not let anyone rush you into making a bad decision. Once your category of prostate cancer is identified (Low, Intermediate, or High Risk), get on the Internet and learn about every treatment option--including no treatment whatsoever--for your type of disease. If you are over 70, and have low-risk disease, my advice to you is to find a doctor who has experience monitoring an active surveillance protocol.
Your role in your recovery, however, doesn't end with choosing your treatment. The emphasis on lifestyle changes has been one of the most significant shifts in cancer care in the last decade. A study at UCSF showed that improving your nutrition, reducing stress and getting more exercise, can lower PSA levels. And according to a relatively new field of health psychology called "illness representation," your beliefs and expectations also impact the outcome of your disease. So take charge of your recovery, and have faith in your choice of treatment.