New York Times writer Dana Jennings, who’s been publicly sharing his own story of prostate cancer, writes about a new book about someone else’s prostate cancer story.
It’s “Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers,” by Ralph H. Blum and Dr. Mark Scholz.
“(The book) is a provocative and frank look at the bewildering world of prostate cancer, from the current state of the multibillion-dollar industry to the range of available treatments.
About 200,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and the authors say nearly all of them are overtreated. Most men, they persuasively argue, would be better served having their cancer managed as a chronic condition.
Why? Because most prostate cancers are lackadaisical — the fourth-class mail of their kind. The authors say “active surveillance” is an effective initial treatment for most men.
They add that only about 1 in 7 men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer are at risk for a serious form of the disease. “Out of 50,000 radical prostatectomies performed every year in the United States alone,” Dr. Scholz writes, “more than 40,000 are unnecessary. In other words, the vast majority of men with prostate cancer would have lived just as long without any operation at all. Most did not need to have their sexuality
Yet radical prostatectomy is still the treatment recommended most often, even though a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that it extended the lives of just 1 patient in 48.
And surgery, of course, is most often recommended by surgeons and urologists — who are also surgeons. Mr. Blum writes: “As one seasoned observer of the prostate cancer industry told me, ‘Your prostate is worth what Ted Turner would call serious cash money.’ ” As for patients, their rational thinking has been short-circuited by the word “cancer.” Scared, frantic and vulnerable — relying on a doctor’s insight — they are ripe to being sold on surgery as their best option. Just get it out.
Every urologist I met with after my diagnosis recommended surgery, even though it was believed then that I had a low-risk Stage 1 cancer. The best advice came from my personal urologist, who declined to do my operation because it was beyond him: “Avoid the community hospital guys who do a volume business in prostates.”
I did, but I’m still maimed. In my experience, doctors play down punishing side effects like incontinence, impotence and shrinking of the penis. Those are just words when you hear them, but beyond language when you go through them.”
Read Jennings’ full column. And you may want to pick up your own copy of “Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers.” I’m getting mine.