PET Imaging Video from Dr. Eugene Kwon

Here’s a very informative 23-minute video for both the newly diagnosed and those of us who have been playing with this for a while. It gives a good overview of prostate cancer, imaging in general, and PET imaging specifically.

Dr. Kwon is from the Mayo Clinic and, as I recall, was an early advocate of using PET imaging in identifying and treating oligometastatic prostate cancer.

This video was from the Prostate Cancer Research Institute (PCRI) YouTube channel. I’m not sure when Part 2 will be released.

Day 4,037 – Insurance Rationale

Over the weekend, I received a letter from my health insurance company explaining the denial of covering the cost of the PSMA PET scan. This differs from what the representative told me via email (UCLA didn’t send all of the necessary paperwork) and carries far more weight, as it appears that a medical review was done. The redacted section below is the name of my insurance provider.

In a nutshell, because my PSA is 0.22 ng/ml, it doesn’t reach their threshold of 1.0 ng/ml, they deem the scan “not medically necessary” and won’t cover the cost.

The insurance company may have a limited point in their comment, “Use of this study would [not] improve the outcome” with my PSA level being so low. Realistically, the chances of the cancer metastasizing while waiting for the PSA to go from 0.22 to 1.0 are miniscule—especially with my PSA doubling time—and the treatment options would likely be the same: Salvage radiation, perhaps with hormone therapy as well.

However, the insurance company is missing the larger point: The whole purpose of having highly sensitive, highly specific scans like 68-Ga PSMA PET is to locate cancer early so that you can come up with an effective treatment plan that hopefully does, in fact, have a positive impact on the outcome and survival.

My urologists were supportive of getting the scan, so I’ll see if I can’t get them to help convince my insurance company through a formal appeal that this is, in fact, medically necessary.


As far as the scan itself, it’s less than 24 hours away. UCLA Department of Nuclear Medicine did remind me that I have to fast for at least six hours prior to the scan, drinking only water. No juice, no coffee, just water.

I’ll let you know how it went.

Be well!

Watch: Current Status of PSMA Diagnostics

Here’s a good overview of PSMA diagnostics by Dr. Calais, one of the UCLA doctors involved with getting 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET approved by the FDA. It’s a bit on the technical side, but it does show the strengths and limitations of the imaging technique.

Day 3,819 – Doctor’s Visit

The dreaded tools of the DRE trade.

My visit to the urologist this afternoon went just as expected, and even a little better.

With the San Diego VA Medical Center being a teaching hospital, it’s rare that I see the same doctor twice. Because I liked the doctor I saw last time because of the conversation we had and the plan that we mapped out together, I specifically requested to see her again this time. Unfortunately, a young resident showed up in her place.

That actually may have worked to my advantage.

Dr. K started the conversation by asking if I had come to a decision as to whether I wanted to do salvage radiation therapy or hormone therapy. I was a bit taken aback by that—”Haven’t we skipped a few steps here, Doc?”—but then I remembered the way that Dr. L wrote up her notes from my visit with her, it would be easy for him to come to that conclusion.

I filled in a few of the blanks with Dr. K regarding our plan to follow up the negative CT and bone scans with an Axumin or PSMA PET scan in hopes of finding the cancer before making the SRT vs. ADT decision. He dutifully reminded me that either or both scans could come back negative, too, meaning that the cancer was still likely in the pelvis or prostate bed.

Interestingly, when we were talking about the merits of the Axumin and PSMA PET scans, he immediately went to, “Why even bother with the Axumin scan; go straight to the PSMA scan.” I didn’t even have to nudge him in that direction. He and I were on the same page.

To his knowledge, though, SD VAMC had not yet referred anyone to get a PSMA PET scan, but he seemed eager to figure our how to make it happen and have me be the first (or among the first) to be referred. He wasn’t even sure where to begin, so I told him.

Instructions for PSMA Referral

I opened my file folder that I had with me and pulled out the one-page sheet that I had put together, stepping him through the referral process that UCLA had shared with me. It was all there for him, and he asked, “May I keep this?”

He did admit, though, that he had no idea how long it may take to get approval from the hospital team before he could even ask for the referral, so this may play out over a few weeks or longer. Rest assured that I’ll keep on top of this, asking for periodic updates.

I’m pretty excited that we’re moving in the direction of going straight to the PSMA PET scan, but also recognize there can be a number of administrative twists and turns along the way.

In the interim, we agreed to test my PSA again in early November, keeping on a four-month testing cycle. I’m okay with that while we’re trying to sort everything else out.


We also talked about my incontinence episodes becoming more frequent and more substantial in the last 6 weeks or so. He wanted to rule out a urinary tract infection, so he sent me off for some labs and we’ll see what they yield.

These episodes have put me back in incontinence pads for the last few weeks. Before, a sneeze or a cough would yield a few drops; now, they yield a squirt. Not good.

More to monitor and report on going forward.

That’s it for this post.

Be well!

Day 3,906 – UCLA PSMA Update

It’s been a week since I submitted the form on the UCLA website for a referral for the PSMA PET scan, and I hadn’t heard anything back, so I called them this morning.

When I mentioned that I submitted the form about a week ago, the agent said, “Oh. Yeah. We can’t book appointments using the form on our website. We need to take that down.” Uh. Okay. Good to know.

To schedule the PSMA scan:

  • The referring physician needs to call the scheduling number: +1 310-794-1005.
  • UCLA Nuclear Medicine will fax a referral form to the doctor to complete and return.
  • It will take 24-48 hours to process the returned form.
  • They’ll work with the patient to select a date for the scan.

They are currently scheduling appointments in September, so there’s a bit of a delay which isn’t all that surprising.

Now all I have to do is convince my doctor at the VA to go through the process once we get the bone scan results back. I’m not sure how that will go, but you can bet I’ll push pretty hard to make it happen.

If they insist on doing the Axumin scan at the VA first, I guess I’m okay with that. But if that comes back negative, I’ll really press for the PSMA PET scan. I’m just not all that keen on having all this radioactive juice injected in me over the course of a few weeks.

We’ll see how things go.

Be well!

Day 3,900 – Requested Info from UCLA on PSMA PET Imaging

Just a quick update…

This morning, I went onto the UCLA website and filled out the form to request more information about the Ga68 PSMA PET scan and perhaps even schedule an appointment with them. We’ll see how long it takes for them to respond. I’m gue$$ing it may be pretty quickly as they want to get more people using their test and facility. Ju$t a hun¢h.

“Cynic, table for one. Cynic.”


That contrast used in the CT scan yesterday really kicked my butt. The juice was injected into me shortly after 2 p.m., and as I was heading to bed around 9 p.m., I could still feel some of the side effects from it.

I did drink a lot of liquids to help purge it from my system and that translated into multiple runs to the toilet through the night last night. Oh well. It all caught up with me around 2 p.m. this afternoon when my ability to focus just ran head-on into a brick wall. I hung it up at the office and came home.

I just checked for the scan results online, and nothing posted yet. I suspect it will be on the weekend that I’ll be able to see them. Of course, they’re usually written in such a away that a lay person has trouble comprehending what’s on the page. We’ll give it a try, though, when the time comes.

That’s about it for today. Hopefully, the next post has news about the PSMA test or the CT scan results, or both.

Until then, be well!

Watch “Biochemical Recurrence After Local Therapy: Assessment and Management” on YouTube

This is a really interesting (at least to me) video out of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Remember that UCSF and UCLA were the two institutions that did considerable work to get the Ga-68 PSMA PET scan approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2020.

First, at the 3:04 minute mark in the video, he presents the number of positive scans by PSA level. Interestingly, he references the same study I posted earlier. What differs in this presentation from the other one I posted is that this looks at PSA values <0.2 and from 0.2-0.49, whereas the other study just looked at positive scans for PSA values <0.5. However, something seems off between the two.

In the original study, it showed a positive detection rate of about 38% for PSA values <0.5. In this video, however, the chart appears to show a positive detection rate at the <0.2 PSA level somewhere north of 40%, and a positive detection rate at the 0.2-0.49 PSA level somewhere north of 50%. Perhaps he wasn’t all that skilled at making bar charts in PowerPoint, but something is amiss.

Where I’m encouraged is that it appears that they are, in fact, able to detect cancer at my PSA level or even lower. The only question is, at what rate? I’ll stick with the one in three value for now, which is still better than zero.

I did email one of the doctors on the team at UCSF, and his response was:

There are no guarantees, but there is a chance that a PSMA PET could detect a site of recurrence with a PSA of greater than 0.2. The chance of detection usually increases as the PSA goes up.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his own product, but I think that’s more to couch expectations because this is so new and even he is still trying to figure it out. (I admit, I was surprised that he even responded, so I’m thankful for that.)

I’ve got a good list of questions ready for my appointment on Tuesday, and I’m sure I’ll spend some of this holiday weekend adding to it and refining it.

Stay tuned for more.

Watch “Rising PSA: How Soon Should You Get a Scan? | Thomas Hope, MD & Mark Moyad, MD | 2021 PCRI” on YouTube

Wow. This could not be more applicable to my current circumstances and certainly gives me food for thought.

Watch “2021: PSMA and Prostate Imaging | Dr. Thomas Hope | 2021 Moyad + Scholz Mid-Year Update | PCRI” on YouTube

I came across this video highlighting Ga68 PSMA PET imaging from the doctor at the University of California San Francisco who helped with developing this imaging technique. It’s a bit long and a bit technical in some places, but gives a good overview.

Day 3,869 – PSA, Imaging, and Salvage Radiation

Today was a tough day. The news of my PSA increasing to 0.21 ng/ml weighed heavily on me throughout the day. It even made me a little snippy in a meeting this morning, as my tolerance for trivial bullsh*t decreased to an all-time low. Oh well. They’ll get over it.

Long-time readers of this blog already know that I’ve delayed starting salvage radiation therapy because I’m reluctant to incur the short- and long-term side effects of radiation without having a higher degree of confidence that we’re actually zapping in the correct location(s)—zapping the cancer itself.

Of course, the current state of imaging for prostate cancer generally sucks, but it is getting better with advances like PSMA PET scans using 68Ga-PSMA-11 where prostate cancer can be located much earlier and much more accurately than using previous technologies such as bone scans. But even 68Ga PSMA PET scans have their limitations.

One of the greatest challenges (gambles?) in deciding when to start salvage radiation therapy is the timing. Most will argue the earlier, the better. Statistics show that in most cases, the cancer is still in the prostate bed or pelvic region, so the radiation oncologists start blindly zapping those regions hoping the statistics are correct. But the cancer could have already spread to more remote locations.

With my PSA doubling time in the 4-5 year range, my team and I have decided to hold off on salvage radiation therapy and, in so doing, I’ve avoided any radiation side effects for five years giving me a high quality of life during that time. That has value to me. Of course, none of us know whether the little buggers have been hanging out in the prostate bed during that time (like statistics would show), or if they’ve gone on one of their own infamous road trips and have started spreading.

One of the things that I’ve been trying to determine for months now is at what PSA level can the Ga68 PSMA PET scan begin to reliably pick up prostate cancer. The answer typically was in the 1.0 to 2.0 range for the PSA. With a PSA a fraction of that (0.21) the PSMA PET scan really wouldn’t be a reliable tool for me yet. It’s not a completely worthless tool, but there are decent chances that I could come away with a false negative result.

Tonight, I stumbled across this paper that provided some insights: Assessment of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET Accuracy in Localizing Recurrent Prostate Cancer: A Prospective Single-Arm Clinical Trial.

The chart below taken from the paper was exactly what I was looking for and more. First, it shows the number of cases where patients with an increasing PSA after prostatectomy have positive results based on their PSA level. For those with PSAs less than 0.5 ng/ml (me), the number of positive cases was only 38%. In other words, there’s about a one in three chance that the Ga68 PSMA PET will be able to locate the cancer at that PSA level. Not good odds, but better than zero.

To me, the really interesting thing about this chart is that it shows the location of where the PSMA PET scan found the cancer by PSA level.

Fendler WP, Calais J, Eiber M, Flavell RR, Mishoe A, Feng FY, Nguyen HG, Reiter RE, Rettig MB, Okamoto S, Emmett L, Zacho HD, Ilhan H, Wetter A, Rischpler C, Schoder H, Burger IA, Gartmann J, Smith R, Small EJ, Slavik R, Carroll PR, Herrmann K, Czernin J, Hope TA. Assessment of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET Accuracy in Localizing Recurrent Prostate Cancer: A Prospective Single-Arm Clinical Trial. JAMA Oncol. 2019 Jun 1;5(6):856-863. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.0096. PMID: 30920593; PMCID: PMC6567829.

You can see that more than half of the cancer in patients with PSAs below 0.5 were found either in the prostate bed or pelvic region, both of which should be very treatable with salvage radiation therapy.

However, once the cancer is in other the other regions—extrapelvic nonbone (other organs), bone, or multiple regions—the cancer becomes very difficult if not impossible to treat. At that point, it’s only managed.

Please keep in mind that those are my non-expert opinions that I will have to confirm with my medical team to make sure I’m interpreting things correctly.

You can see that, as your PSA increases above 0.5 ng/ml, the cancer was found more broadly in the study participants. By that, I mean the cancer had spread beyond the prostate bed and pelvic region. You can also see, however, that even with PSAs less than 0.5, the cancer has already spread elsewhere in about 40% of the patients in the study with that PSA level.

That’s the whole point of knowing this. If the cancer has already spread, there’s no sense in zapping the prostate bed or pelvis risking long-term radiation side effects adversely impacting quality of life for no gain whatsoever.

This is only one study with 635 patients, so I am taking the results above with a healthy dose of skepticism, and I’ll continue to do more research in the three weeks before my appointment. But this study will be a good conversation opener for the consultation.

Some of the questions that are on the top of my bald head are:

  • Should we run another PSA test to see if this was an outlier/anomaly like some of my previous PSA tests (I’ve been using the same lab all along)?
  • How much weight does PSA doubling time have now that we’ve crossed the 0.2 ng/ml threshold?
  • Would he support getting the Ga68 PSMA PET scan done at this PSA level?
  • If not, at what PSA level would he support getting the PSMA PET scan?
  • Would he be willing to give me a referral to get one done even if I have to pay for it myself?

Fortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the Ga68 PSMA PET scan at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and that would be a 2.5-3 hour drive for me to get up there to have the scan.

In the meantime, I’m going to have to reconcile in my own mind how high I’m going to let my PSA get before taking action, scan or not.

Lots of research, thinking, and soul-searching ahead. But be forewarned: My trivial B.S. tolerance level is way less than my PSA. 🙂