Hollywood A-list actor Ben Stiller has opened up about early testing for prostate cancer saved his life, after being diagnosed with the disease back in 2014.
In a US radio interview with Howard Stern this week, Stiller shared the news, saying that despite having no family history of prostate cancer, nor being in a high-risk group, he had “mid-range aggressive cancer” at just 48 years of age.
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As Stiller writes in a candid personal essay published online, his doctor started running “baseline” prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests from when he was 46, purely as a precaution.
After watching his “PSA tests rise for over a year and a half, testing me every six months” Stiller says his doctor referred him to a urologist, who then did an MRI and ultimately a biopsy, which led to him being diagnosed in 2014. He had no symptoms.
For the following three months the actor was treated before undergoing surgery to remove the tumour. In September of that year he was given the all clear, and at the time of writing “got a test back telling me I was cancer free.”
Stiller insists that if his doctor had waited to test him until he was 50, as the American Cancer Society recommends, “I would not have known I had a growing tumour until two years after I got treated.
“If [Stiller’s doctor] had followed the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, I would have never gotten tested at all, and not have known I had cancer until it was way too late to treat successfully.”
American medical guidelines advise men to commence testing for prostate cancer after the age of 50. But, as Stiller writes, “Taking the PSA test [early] saved my life. Literally. That’s why I am writing this now.”
In Australia, the advice is much the same. According to Better Health, the Victorian state government health authority, “Current guidelines recommend that men over age 50, or over the age of 40 with a family history of prostate cancer.”
There are also no government-sponsored prostate screening programs, unlike breast, bowel and cervical cancer initiatives, which citizens are sent reminders to undergo.
However, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, and according to the Cancer Council, “it is estimated that one in six males will be diagnosed by the time they are 85”.
Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told CNN that there is a viable case for delaying testing, despite Stiller’s positive and life-saving experience.
“The tests have bad operating systems,” he said. “They sometimes miss cancer that needs to be found, and they find cancer that doesn’t need to be found.”
CNN also writes that when PSA tests offer misleading or inaccurate results, it can lead to men being unnecessarily diagnosed and treated, which has its own downsides.
“This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one,” writes Stiller. “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.”
We look forward to seeing how this debate evolves in Australia, but in the meantime, are delighted that Stiller is healthy and nine years on, totally cancer-free.