Diagnosed by Chance
When I was 78, I went to my GP with a throat problem. He asked me if it caused sleep problems. I said that my only sleep problem was the regular night-time trips to the toilet, which had become more frequent over the years. On checking his screen he found that my last PSA test had been over three years before. I had had four previous PSA tests, all below one, so I was advised to have another purely as a precaution.
My PSA had gone up to 7.6 and I was called for urgent further tests. These confirmed cancer, which was near to breaking out and too advanced for surgery. I was immediately started on three-monthly hormone injections, and, after six months, started 37 sessions of daily radiotherapy. The injections finished after three years, and after another year I was transferred from consultant care to a specialist nurse. Every six months I have a PSA test and am informed of the results – the latest being 0.06.
Don’t Wait for Symptoms!
Five years ago, while I was having the daily radiotherapy, I got talking with six or eight fellow patients. It was surprising that only one had been diagnosed as a result of going to a GP with symptoms. The others, myself included, had been diagnosed through good fortune, often showing no symptoms – as was Stephen Fry, according to the last issue of Lifeline. Most had a relative or friend diagnosed and had been persuaded to ask for a test, and a couple had been diagnosed through attending sessions at shopping centres.
I now spread the word about PSA tests to family, friends and anyone who might listen. Incidentally, the throat problem was found to be a relaxed muscle, which I am happy to live with!
Note from PCR
PSA tests can detect some prostate cancers before they have any symptoms, which allows men to make a decision about whether or not to undergo treatment. This can mean that if a cancer is growing quickly, treatment can be started early enough to stop it spreading and becoming advanced. However, about three out of four men with high PSA will not have prostate cancer, and about one in seven prostate cancers can be missed with a PSA test.
There is a national screening programme for breast cancer. There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer because PSA tests are not seen as being accurate enough to justify it. However, men are entitled to a free PSA test from the NHS under the Prostate Cancer Risk Management programme.
Read our quick guide to PSA tests here.