More Life to Live?

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Your longevity increased greatly last week. Wham! Out of the woodwork sprang new hope in the diagnosis and treatment of women with breast and/or ovarian cancer, and men with prostate cancer. 

Breast cancer ranks second as a cause of cancer death in women (after lung cancer). According to the American Cancer Society, 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to occur during 2012 in the U.S. Excluding skin cancer; breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women.

Actress Angelina Jolie blasted the door open for women, at risk from breast and ovarian cancer, to choose an alternate method of treatment. Jolie revealed May 13 in the New York Times that she quietly had a preventive double mastectomy after a genetic test showed she carries a mutation in the hereditary breast/ovarian cancer gene BRCA1.

If “Jolie can do it” so will other women choose this treatment without shame, as Jolie certainly ranks as one of America’s most feminine and forward-looking of women. Not every woman at risk will choose this more aggressive treatment but for those that do there is this option. Jolie has quietly, and without a lot of fanfare, changed our attitudes about mastectomy. As thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of women choose this treatment in the future, we can be certain that there will be significant advances in surgery for removal, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Women are in debt ‘big-time’ to Jolie for her gutsy stand.

Men also got good news last week regarding the detection of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men (excluding skin cancer) and the second most common cause of death. Approximately 241,740 new cases were diagnosed in 2012 with an estimated 28,170 men expected to die from the disease in the year.

Use of the blood PSA (prostate antigen) test has met with increasing clinical resistance due to false positives, inconclusive or uncertain diagnoses, unnecessary prostate biopsies (initially and follow-up) and risky complications. A recent report concluded that the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test could be more harmful than beneficial, although it remains important for detecting recurring prostate cancer.

Then along came a recent report from Irvine, optimistically noting that, “Early screening for prostate cancer could become as easy for men as personal pregnancy testing is for women, thanks to UC Irvine research published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.”

“After more than a decade of work, UC Irvine chemists have created a way to clearly identify clinically usable markers for prostate cancer in URINE, meaning that the disease could be detected far sooner, with greater accuracy and at dramatically lower cost.”

“The UC Irvine researchers used a different biomarker, PSMA, and plan to test others to pinpoint if a cancer is growing aggressively or not. The next step is human clinical trials, which the researchers hope can be conducted fairly quickly since the testing will be noninvasive.”

Women will tell you that there are few things scarier than hearing you might have, or are at high risk for, breast cancer. The same is true for men and the dreaded diagnosis of prostate cancer that now entails uncertain tests and risky procedures.

And so last week was a great one for women and men that unveiled significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast and prostate cancer. That the good news came in one week is remarkably serendipitous I think.

It looks like sex is here to stay.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., Newport Beach, is an ornery and cynical curmudgeon who writes “Deep Thoughts from Dr. Mike” for the Glueck has written extensively on medical-legal issues locally and nationally.


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