Ben Stiller is taking a stance in the debate over PSA screening.
Actor Ben Stiller is disease-free after treatment for prostate cancer, and he’s crediting a blood test with saving his life.
Stiller, 50, wrote in a blog post at medium.com that his doctor conducted a baseline blood test for levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) when he was 40, and then periodically thereafter. Rising PSA levels two years ago were a signal that Stiller needed to see a urologist, who conducted a rectal exam, followed by an MRI. Soon after that came a biopsy, which revealed “mid-range aggressive cancer.” A surgeon removed the cancer by performing a robotic-assisted, laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, Stiller revealed in his essay.
The actor’s aim in publicly discussing his cancer experience is to weigh in on the side of routine PSA screening for men over 40.
It’s a controversial issue. In 2012, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended against any apparently healthy men getting the test, although it is reconsidering that guidance. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends PSA screening starting at age 50. Those against the screening point out that increased PSA levels don’t always signal cancer, or may be associated with a cancer that would never become life-threatening. As a result, discovering a raised PSA level may lead to invasive tests or cancer therapies that turn out to be unnecessary yet create lifelong side effects, such as impotence or incontinence. Those for the screening argue that, without it, asymptomatic cancers, like Stiller’s, can be overlooked until they become aggressive and incurable.
Stiller says he might have developed metastatic prostate cancer if he hadn’t been screened before he became age-eligible under the ACS’s guidelines.
“I think men over the age of 40 should have the opportunity to discuss the test with their doctor and learn about it, so they can have the chance to be screened. After that, an informed patient can make responsible choices as to how to proceed,” he wrote. “I count my blessings that I had a doctor who presented me with these options. After I chose to take the test, he directed me to doctors who worked at centers of excellence in this field to determine the next steps. This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one. But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early.”