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Slow Growth and Innocuous

November 3, 2013

50 years ago in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland gambling was legal. I use to play pinball machines there that paid money if you won. I worked then as a bag boy at the Patuxent River Navy Commissary Store, typically earning between $.75 to $5.00 bagging navy wives groceries after school. On my way home I would lose half or more of my tip money to those shiny pinball machines in the Rexall Drug Store. Each day those machines taught me that the best I could do was break even, and after a few months of loosing most of my money I decided I rather put a pair of wool pants in the lay-a-way instead of gamble−a lesson I’m glad I learned when I was 14.

Now the American Cancer Society wants men to gamble with their health. They have removed prostate cancer screening from their quiver of test, because they say some men’s results expose innocuous tumors that may not be dangerous. The operative words are, “may not be dangerous.” But how is the patient to determine slow growth innocuous tumors, since it (the American Cancer Society) has restricted prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing?

I grew up hearing the phrase, “error on the side of caution,” but without baseline PSA scores tracking potential cancers may become more challenging. For example, my PSA score was 1.7 when I was 56, it moved up slightly to 1.8 when I was 57, and then up to 2.2 when I was 58. My score jumped to 3.15 when I was 59, and even though it was still in the supposed safe range of less than 4.0, I opted for a biopsy because of the large numeric change. The pathology report showed I had a small amount of cancer cells in the apex of my prostate, with a Gleason score of 3+3. I had survived tongue cancer in 1995 and neck cancer in 1997, because of early detection coupled with appropriate treatment. Therefore, I chose action over wait and see if my tumors were slow growth and innocuous.

Fault me for not feeling lucky!

Please review Is Prostate Cancer Screening Right for You? by the American Urological Association and then decide.

Let me know what you think.

With a perspective I’m Gerald Green

Gerald Green is a retired gas engineer and an author who lives in Oakland. His memoir Life Constricted: To Love, Hugs and Laughter chronicles his family’s cancer journeys.

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