It seems tome that one of the most dreaded words in our language is “cancer” – particularly when a physicians says, “I’m sorry to tell you this but you have cancer.” Hearing those words is like a sucker punch to the gut – it takes all the air from your lungs and it’s difficult to breathe.
I know because I’ve have had that experience as will well over 200,000 men this year as they are given the news that they have been diagnosed with that killer of males only – prostate cancer. Coupled with the estimate of between 27,500 and 29,000 deaths from the disease this year and the fact that prostate cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in American men the numbers look kinda bleak for those guys getting the bad news.
Sure enough , prostate cancer is a serious disease, but the good news, the hope-filled news, is most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. In fact, more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today. And I am among that number – along with five of my six friends who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So instead of dwelling on the “bad” numbers during this Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, let’s look at some much more encouraging ones.
Sure, prostate cancer can be fatal, however, if diagnosed early, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent. At the 10 year point after early diagnosis, 98 percent of men remain alive. Sounds encouraging doesn’t it? Well, here’s an even more interesting set of figures. According to the most recent data I’ve found, when ALL stages of prostate cancer are included: the relative 5-year survival rate is almost 100 percent: the relative 10-year survival rate is 99 percent; and the 15-year relative survival rate is 94 percent.
The 5-year survival rates are based on patients diagnosed and first treated more than 5 years ago, 10-year survival rates on patients diagnosed more than 10 years ago, and 15-year survival rates on patients diagnosed at least 15 years ago.
How about them apples?
Most of us are kinda familiar with the various “stages” of cancer ranging from “0” where a cancer cell is in the position where it started and may produce a tumor right there but in a way that poses little or no threat to life through “4” where the cancer has spread through the body. Sound kinda familiar? Well, there’s another way at categorizing prostate cancer that produces interesting numbers.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) maintains a large national database on survival statistics for different types of cancer, known as the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) which includes cancer incidence, prevalence, mortality, survival, stage at diagnosis data and other statistics. The SEER database doesn’t group cancers by the 0-4 “stages,” but into “local,” “ regional,” and “distant” stages which makes visualizing the spread of a cancer a bit easier.
The local stage means that there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside the prostate. The regional stage means the cancer has spread from the prostate to nearby areas. This includes cancers that haven’t spread to distant parts of the body but may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. The distant stage includes the rest of the cancers that have spread to distant lymph nodes, bones, or other organs.
Ready for some numbers? About 80 percent of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed while in the local state and – now get this – with a 5-year relative survival of nearly 100 percent. Another 12 percent are diagnosed in the regional state with once again nearly 100 percent’ 5- year relative survival rate. About 4 percent are diagnosed in the distant state with about a 28 percent five- ear survival rate. The remaining 4 percent are classified as “unstaged” with about a 77 percent five-year relative survival rate.
OK, so what does all this tell us? Early diagnosis is the key to surviving prostate cancer. (My friend Mike was in the distant state when his prostate cancer was discovered – it had already spread throughout his body.) Thanks to early detection and treatment I am personally well beyond the five year mark with no indication of my cancer returning. Yep, successful treatment is possible.
Unfortunately, early diagnosis requires the active cooperation and participation of physicians who are willing to provide the screening procedures necessary for early detection. You know, that’s what Prostate Cancer Awareness Month is all about – getting guys (perhaps urged by the women who care for them) to become pro-active in insisting their physicians conduct the well-known standard prostate cancer screening procedures. The numbers tell the story. At least that’s how it seems to me.