Prostate cancer is also a younger man's disease

Fall 2019

When John Oliveira’s new family doctor took his medical history, he asked if there was any cancer in the family. John’s grandfather had died of prostate cancer and with that family history, it was suggested that John should start having an annual Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test.

The PSA test is a blood test which is used to screen for early signs of prostate cancer and measures the amount of PSA in the blood.

Although PSA is produced by both cancerous and normal healthy tissues in the prostate, the higher the PSA level, the greater the concern that it could be cancer. A PSA level below 4 ng/mL is usually considered normal.

“The results of my first test showed my PSA was 12. I was scared, I know the lower the number the better,” says the Wallaceburg-area resident.

John was referred to an urologist at his local hospital who recommended a follow-up test in six months to check for any changes. That second test revealed his PSA had increased to 22 ng/mL. Three months later a further PSA test showed a jump to 25 ng/mL.

A close friend who’d had prostate cancer recommended that he be referred to London Health Sciences Centre and Dr. Joseph Chin, Chief of Surgical Oncology.

“It went quickly from there. I was referred in January and saw Dr. Chin in early February,” says John.

He was given several treatment options. The standard treatment for his type of prostate cancer was surgery followed by radiation and hormone treatment if necessary. He also had the option to participate in a clinical trial where there was a 50 per cent chance of receiving experimental treatment.

“I chose to participate in the clinical trial, and as part of the trial I was randomly selected to receive 18 weeks of the experimental treatment. I had stage-three cancer and I thought the trial would be a good option for me,” says John. “It is also helping the future, the guys coming in. If it works for me then maybe it works for others down the road.”

That treatment included six rounds of chemotherapy and hormone therapy, and then two months later, surgery to remove the prostate gland.

Patients who were randomly chosen to receive the standard treatment would begin with the prostatectomy, the removal of all or part of the prostate gland.

The goal of the clinical trial is to determine whether treatment with chemotherapy and hormone therapy before surgery to remove the prostate will reduce the rates of prostate cancer recurrence, compared to surgery alone for men with high-risk prostate cancer.

“The hormone therapy in this trial works by stopping the body from making androgens, and androgens can cause the growth of prostate cancer cells,” says Stephanie Horst, Clinical Research Associate for Urology Research at LHSC.

Recovery

John says he didn’t suffer too much with the chemotherapy, he had only a few side effects, but recovery took about a year from diagnosis.

“The hardest part of the treatment and trial was to see if it worked,” says John. “My PSA was zero after the treatments and it has been zero for six years. I am very fortunate.”

For the first three years John had blood work done and follow-up appointments with Dr. Chin every three months. Then for the next three years, John saw Dr. Chin twice a year, and now six years post treatment only an annual appointment is necessary until he has reached 15 years since enrolling in the trial.

After his experience, John along with a friend started a prostate cancer support group in both Wallaceburg and London.

The response has been great and the group is comprised of those who have gone through treatment and those who are newly diagnosed.

“Together we can help ease the fears and anxieties, and tell people about the resources available in the community. We try to have a guest speaker at every other meeting. Meetings without a speaker give attendees a chance to talk and vent and help them feel like they are not the only ones going through this.”

John is raising awareness and money for research through an event he organizes called A Night of Comedy and is also on the Dash for Dad committee.

“I’m very fortunate I’m alive, and I want to help others. A lot of research can’t happen without fundraising, so it is important to me to help raise funds and awareness,” says John.

That includes raising awareness that prostate cancer is also a younger man’s disease.

“My advice is to get your PSA checked because it can change your life. A lot of guys don’t worry about it until they have prostate cancer,” says John. “Early detection is key.”

John Oliveira and Grail Holek are raising awareness and money for research through an event they organize called A Night of Comedy. In 2018 they donated a cheque of $10,787.23 to Dr. Joseph Chin for prostate cancer research.

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