There are three things profoundly wrong with a U.S. government panel’s recommendation to end blood tests for prostate cancer.
First, what does stopping the test do for a man? It makes him ignorant of what is happening in his own body. It makes him incapable of making a decision about his own health and fate. Since when and how is a lack of information better than information?
Second, prostate and testicular cancer are curable when caught early. Why the hell would we not continue to try to detect these men’s diseases?
Third, the panel treats men as a statistical pool, not as individuals. It says that overall, the test does not reduce deaths. Whether or not that’s so is of no concern to me. I’m not member of a pool or a data point in it. I’m not random. I’m one man with one prostate. It was cancerous.
The problem here is that medicine cannot yet detect the difference between fast-spreading — and often fatal — prostate cancer and slow-spreading tumors that take so long to grow that oftentimes something else kills their hosts first. So, yes, some tumors are taken out that would not have killed a man. But there is no way to know that.
So who wants to take that gamble? Not me. I had prostate cancer. I was told I could react with “watchful waiting.” But I chose not to. Of course, I did. Informed I had cancer in my body, I had to get it out. I have a responsibility to my family to stay alive so I can provide for them (among other things, I hope). I also have a responsibility as a member of an insurance pool to get a disease treated earlier and for less, if possible. If I let the disease progress, it could involve extremely expensive treatment — radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, hospitalization — for a cancer that spreads from the prostate to the bones to the rest of the body. I know. That’s how my grandfather died.
Does the surgery have side-effects? Oh, let me tell you, it does. I’ve made no secret of them — quite to the contrary, my publicness about them inspired me to write Public Parts.
It has been two years since my surgery and I owe you an update. I am still impotent. I have tried Viagra and Cialis to no effect other than indigestion. I went through the ordeal of shopping for and buying a penis pump (once again being nice to my insurance pool by not buying the one that’s overpriced for those bringing prescriptions; I bought the exact same thing for much less with my own money). It did nothing but mangle and misform my already abused penis and cause pain. I am getting ready to get trained in the art of sticking a needle in my dick to make it engorge, if it still can.
Oh, yes, there are side-effects. The government wants to protect me from them while not protecting me from cancer, a cancer that could or could not kill me, no one knows.
That is my choice. It is a choice I can make only with information, information about my body the government now wants to keep from me.
Wrong. Profoundly, fatally wrong.