Clark’s cancer update and Father’s Day message

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Clark Howard

Major League Baseball does a big tie-in with prostate cancer to try to encourage families and men to make sure they’re taking care of themselves and to ensure that they don’t have a silent killer.

I’ve been very public on the air for a long time about having been diagnosed with prostate cancer last decade and as we approach Father’s Day I wanted to give you an update on my journey.

I have confused people all through the years because I have never had treatment for my cancer. There have been a number of people who have been very unhappy with me — including people in the medical field — who feel that I’m being reckless, careless and creating danger for others by encouraging what they feel is reckless or dangerous behavior.

A lot of people are in a community where the culture among doctors is that if any cancer is detected, it needs to be treated immediately. Also, many patients hearing the word “cancer” freak out and get treatment immediately.

I want to share with you some things, including brand new information that I just got in the last few weeks about what’s going on with my cancer.

Prostate cancer, certain skin cancers and breast cancer are different than many other cancers in that there are different genetic makeups of the cancers with different risk levels and consequences.

Medical researchers now know that roughly 40% of people with prostate cancer have extremely slow-growing cancer that they will die with, not from. The problem today is that we don’t know who’s in that 40%, so it requires a process known as “active surveillance.” That process was originally called “watchful waiting.”

If you appear to fit the profile of someone who has an early stage cancer that at least initially does not look dangerous, that can be validated over time by doing biopsies and, in more recent years, MRIs.

Since 2006, I have had 12 biopsies and, I think, four MRIs. I’m on a schedule that has been adjusted over time as my cancer has shown no meaningful growth over these years.

The same thing is going on right now — and it gets no publicity at all — with medical research involving breast cancer, where there are certain kinds of early-stage breast cancer that are not considered to be in any way life-threatening, but are heavily over-treated. There are doctors who are devoting their lives in the breast cancer field to trying to get the word out that in many cases treatment is unnecessary and only the breast cancer equivalent of active surveillance is required.

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Other people have extremely dangerous breast cancers, just like others have extremely dangerous prostate cancers.

With prostate cancer, there’s a grading scale different than your probably used to with Stage I though IV with other cancers. It’s called a Gleason Score and it goes 6, 7 and beyond. The higher the number, the worse it is for you, the lower the number, the better. People that are Gleason 6s and many Gleason 7s are good candidates for active surveillance.

It’s important with prostate cancer to not freak out. The Prostate Cancer Foundation has a very good plain-English guide to what you need to know if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer. If you or a family member or friend are diagnosed with prostate cancer and you’re feeling upset or anxious, go read this guide and you’ll have a better sense about what you should do.

As far as those people who feel that I have been reckless, I just respectfully disagree. I’ve been very careful in how I’ve handled this and I’m not going to do something foolish.

I had an MRI in April at UCLA Medical Center and a biopsy in mid-May there. My MRI showed no evidence of any dangerous cancers and the biopsy found what it has found all through the years, which is minimal, very low-grade cancer — Gleason Score 6.

So, the protocol is that I’ve gone from initially every six months having tests, to once a year, to every 18 months to a two-year cycle — and now I’m on a 30-month cycle. So, two-and-a-half years from now, unless something happens in the intervening time that’s worrisome, I’ll be checked again.

I want you to know that as patients, you and I are laypeople. We don’t have medical knowledge. I’m terrible at science. But I’ve been very motivated. I read medical journals, not who-knows-who’s blog. I have to sit with a glossary of medical terms as I read to understand what the researchers are saying, but I want to be as knowledgeable as I can.

That’s what I want to encourage you to do. Not to try to tell a doctor what to do — not at all. The doctor has superior knowledge. He or she has spent a lot of years in school. But they are not God.

You need to manage your own health care and you need to be your own advocate. Be prepared with knowledge and don’t just go in like a sheep, doing whatever you’re told.

I encourage you with your wallet to be a smart consumer. I encourage you with your health, as well, to be a smart consumer.

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There’s an old expression that “you want to keep Dad in the game” and this is how you do that. If your husband, father, boyfriend or whatever has not been checked out and is past age 50, the first step is to make sure you are healthy.

If you do find out that you have prostate cancer, you’ve got to know what to do next — and it may not involve treatment.

Visit Clark’s personal Prostate Cancer Foundation Page here

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