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Preventing prostate cancer:

With simple test, early detection offers several treatment options

by Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer
March 14, 2001

        Al Dierckes Jr. got a “good news/bad news” result from his annual physical exam in 1998.

        The bad news was that he had prostate cancer.

        The good news was — and is - that he caught it early enough to treat it successfully.

photo of dierckes Al Dierckes Jr. poses in his Anderson Township home in front of family photos of his five children and eight grandchildren.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
        Now Mr. Dierckes, 62, of Anderson Township, has news for other men: Annual prostate exams save lives, and there are plenty of treatment options besides surgery to stop the disease in its tracks.

        That's also the message that will be presented March 24 when the Barrett Center for Cancer Prevention, Treatment and Research offers a free forum on prostate cancer. Featured speakers are Dr. David Crawford, University of Colorado; Dr. Kent Wallner, University of Washington and Dr. William Dahut, National Cancer Institute. Speakers will discuss treatment options, case studies and the prostate cancer vaccine.

        Prostate cancer patients have several treatment options from surgery to hormone therapy, says Dr. William Barrett, director of radiation oncology at University Hospital.

        Many patients undergo a combination of therapies when they're treated for prostate cancer, Dr. Barrett says, and the March 24 forum can help patients and physicians better understand what's available.

        But first, they have to find the cancer.

        As part of his routine physical, Mr. Dierckes got a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. The blood test indicated his PSA level — the amount of protein manufactured by prostate cells — had jumped about 5 points from the previous year. A subsequent biopsy revealed a malignancy.

        He also underwent a digital rectal exam during his physical, but the malignancy wasn't apparent.

        Mr. Dierckes, a chemical engineer for Procter & Gamble, talked to his urologist about his options. The urologist mentioned surgery and radiation. Then Mr. Dierckes talked to Dr. Barrett about his options with radiation therapy.

        Then he started reading.

diagram of prostate area
        “I wound up with about three inches' worth of articles from different medical journals and other documents that I found and read, plus reading I found on the Web,” he says.

        His research led him to the hormone therapy option. He and Dr. Barrett agreed that combining the hormone therapy with internal and external radiation would be the most aggressive option.

        “I said, 'My objective's to kill the cancer. Let's be aggressive,'” he says. “It was an easy decision. The data that I read told me that for my type cancer, the probability of success for the prostatectomy and the radiation would be about the same. With comparable degrees of success, the radiation sounded right for me.”

        He suffered no side effects during the radiation, and his PSA levels are back to normal, indicating there's little chance of the cancer recurring.

        But while he was undergoing treatment, his father, Al Dierckes Sr., 85, of Florence, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and has opted for hormone therapy.

        Mr. Dierckes knows he was lucky, but catching the cancer early didn't just come down to luck: The PSA test made all the difference.

        “I've advised all three of my sons to get the baseline PSA at age 35 to 40 and to track it,” he says. “Today, if a person gets a physical exam, they generally do blood work. One more test of the blood they've already drawn is painless to the individual and is priceless in terms of the quality of the information that they get.”

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