Day 4,178 – PSA Results & Stuff

I went for my pre-physical appointment blood work yesterday and was surprised to have the results back today. It used to take the VA two or three days to post them online.

In any case, my PSA climbed once again from 0.33 ng/mL on 11 March to 0.36 ng/mL yesterday, 18 April. PSA doubling time dropped from 14.4 months to 12.7 months, indicating a continued acceleration which makes sense.

I did schedule my mapping with the radiation oncologist and, in my discussions with the urologist about the PSA test, we agreed to reschedule my 10 May appointment into September after the salvage radiation therapy was completed. My schedule now looks like:

  • 21 April – Appointment with PCP for a lube, oil, and filter change.
  • 3 May – Eligard injection.
  • 16 June – Body mapping with radiation oncologist.
  • 13 September – Urology appointment

We didn’t set an actual start date for the zapping, but I suspect it would be a week or two after the mapping and it would last through July and into August.


My emotions in the last week or so have run the gamut.

I can’t seem to get it out of my head that, once I start down this path, my life as I currently know it will be gone. Much of that is probably unfounded and a gross exaggeration, as the rational part of me knows that the chances for long-term, quality of life-impacting side effects are minimal. Yet the emotional side of my pea-sized brain is dwelling on that and I can’t seem to shake it.

Of course, that leads me to anger over this insidious disease and the impact it has on your life. Aside from the aches and pains associated with my vintage, high mileage body, it’s difficult to reconcile that within me there’s the army of cells wanting to kill me even though I’m feeling generally well. The fact that you have to take drastic action to fight off those cells—again—makes the situation even more aggravating.

Part of this, too, stems from the timing. I retired at the end of October, and there are things I want to do and places I want to go. The uncertainty of not knowing how my body will react to the hormone therapy and salvage radiation makes me hesitant to plunk down $10,000+ for a bucket-list trip to New Zealand now that its borders are beginning to slowly open. Maybe by October (New Zealand’s spring), I’ll know whether I can endure a fourteen-hour flight.

I know that, like the countless men before me, I’ll get past this and adapt accordingly whatever the outcome. What choice do we have? In the interim, I’ll continue to play as my body under treatment allows me to play.

Venting session over. Thanks for listening, and be well.

Month 136 – PSA Results & SRT

Well, kicking the can down the road is no longer an option. My PSA shot up like an Apollo Saturn V rocket (yes, I’m dating myself).

Between 5 January 2022 and 11 March 2022, it jumped from 0.26 ng/mL to 0.33 ng/mL. That’s a 27% increase.

Yes, I had the PSA test done about three weeks sooner than I had planned. I had to see the doctor for another issue, and they did full blood work-up for that. They included the PSA test in that battery of tests, too, so I got my results earlier than expected.

Needless to say, I was hoping that this PSA test would have proved the 0.26 ng/mL to be an outlier, or at least to be consistent, but that wasn’t to be. It’s clear that the rate of increase is accelerating and that’s not good.

Based on that, I called UCSD Radiation Oncology this morning to schedule an appointment with the radiation oncologist to discuss starting salvage radiation therapy. It was a tough call to make on a Monday morning.

On a lighter note, the receptionist who took my call was great (answered on the first ring and went straight to her!—no menu tree to button-push your way through). I am not a morning person, and she was far too bright and chipper for a Monday. When I told her that I was ready to schedule radiation, she responded with a cheerful, “That’s great!!” “You said that far too enthusiastically,” I responded with my stomach in knots at having to make the call in the first place. Oh well.

The enthusiasm continued by scheduling the appointment with the doctor and the body mapping session back-to-back on the same day: Friday, 25 March 2022.

Oh. She gave me a homework assignment, too: Try to have an empty rectum and a full bladder for the mapping.

I will admit that part of me wants to press the doctor about having additional imaging done before we start radiation, but I also know that the cancer continues to grow while we’re waiting for the scan and its results. It doesn’t cost anything to ask the question.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the next chapter in this journey is about to begin. Wish me luck.

Day 4,117 – Radiation Oncologist Consult

This afternoon, I took a leisurely stroll down to my local radiation oncologist’s office…

That sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke, but it’s not. I walked the 0.9 mile / 1.5 km walk from my home to the UCSD Radiation Oncology center for my first consult there.

My original appointment was for 3:30 p.m., but at 11:40 a.m., they called and said they had a cancellation and asked if I could come in at 2 p.m. Sure. Let’s get this over with.

The radiation oncologist (RO) was very welcoming and very direct in talking about my options, which I appreciated very much. He’s been pretty much exclusively zapping prostates since 2010, which helped build up confidence in his experience and abilities. When he mentioned that he studied at University of Chicago (my hometown), we got off topic and talked about deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches for a moment.

The key points from the conversation:

  • He recommended proceeding with the radiation at 70 Gy for 7 weeks (IMRT/IGRT), but thought it wasn’t necessary to begin it immediately.
  • He said given my numbers and the negative PSMA PET scan, he would zap only the prostate bed and not the pelvic lymph nodes.
  • I should not let my PSA get above 0.5 ng/mL before starting radiation. Of course, starting sooner rather than later would be better.
  • The risk of long-term side effects appears to be lower than what I had in my mind.

When talking about the likelihood of success, the RO chuckled a little when I mentioned the nomogram numbers. Apparently, he isn’t a fan of nomograms. When I mentioned that the urologist at the VA said that salvage radiation was possibly curative, he chuckled at that, too. He was pretty blunt when he said that salvage radiation would be a “50-50 crap shoot” when it comes to long-term suppression of the cancer. The reason we do it, though, is to squash it hard enough and long enough to significantly slow its progression and buy years of life.

We talked at length about quality of life and life expectancy. He asked if I expected to be here in 10 years, to which I replied, “I don’t know.” My dad and his mom both died unexpectedly at the age of 69—that’s only 5 years away. Will I follow in their footsteps? Who knows. He thought that not doing salvage radiation may be an option if my chances of not living another 10 years are good. But if I thought I would live beyond 10 years, then do the radiation now.

It was interesting that throughout the discussion, he talked solely about salvage radiation without mentioning hormone therapy other than it being the next step after radiation. But then near the end of the conversation, he recommended six months of hormone therapy for me starting at the end of radiation to “really knock down the cancer.” I’m not sure I was expecting that.

We agreed that it would be okay to wait until my next PSA test in early April to see what that shows. But he reminded me that the cancer is there and it is growing. He offered me his card and said to call if I had any other questions.

All in all, I’m pleased with how the discussion went. The RO’s candor was refreshing and I was impressed with the UCSD staff and facility. I left feeling more at ease than I was when I went in. (In fact, little gremlins were doing a jig in my stomach a good chunk of the morning before the appointment.) Am I 100% sold that this is the path I want to pursue? Not yet. But I’m much closer to it than I was when I woke up this morning.

The whole, “When do you think you’ll die?” conversation was a little unnerving and simultaneously thought-provoking. It’s been a while since I’ve had a full-blown physical, so it may be worth checking under the hood to see if everything is in order before starting radiation.

In my mind, if the April PSA comes back higher than the 0.26 ng/mL in January, I’d be more inclined to start sooner. But if it comes back at the 0.21-0.22 ng/mL that it was in June, July, or October, I may be inclined to kick the can down the road a little longer. I don’t know.

As I told a friend yesterday, it’s time to go sit on a mountain top and process all of this information.

More to come.

Be well!

Salvage Radiation Therapy Nomograms

I’ve been playing around with two nomograms that offer predictions on the outcome of salvage radiation therapy (SRT). One if from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and the other is from the Cleveland Clinic (CC). They are similar in design, but the MSKCC nomogram requires more detailed information to be input by the patient, but the CC nomogram provides a more information at the output.

Summary

Both nomograms gave results that are in the same ballpark, with the CC nomogram being a bit more conservative.

MSKCC said that I would have a 64% chance of being progression-free after 6 years after SRT; CC said that I have a 59% chance of being progression-free after 5 years, and 45% chance of being progression-free at 10 years.

The CC nomogram takes it one step further and estimates a 6% cumulative chance of metastasis at 5 years, and a 12% cumulative chance of metastasis at 10 years.

MSKCC Nomogram

MSKCC Salvage Radiation Therapy Nomogram link: https://www.mskcc.org/nomograms/prostate/salvage_radiation_therapy

In order to use the MSKCC SRT nomogram, you will first need to calculate your PSA Doubling Time, and they specify that you should use the PSA values obtained in the last twelve months.

MSKCC PSA Doubling Time Calculator link: https://www.mskcc.org/nomograms/prostate/psa_doubling_time

The MSKCC SRT nomogram requires you to provide:

  • Pre-surgery PSA value.
  • Most recent PSA value.
  • PSA Doubling Time.
  • How many months have passed before your PSA reached 2.0 ng/mL or higher. [Interesting note: The field only accepts values between 0 and 72 months and, for me, it took 125 months to cross the 0.2 ng/mL threshold. I’m guessing that may mean that my result will be a bit conservative because I had to plug in 72 months instead of 125.]
  • Your Gleason score.
  • Information about your:
    • Surgical margins.
    • Extracapsular extension.
    • Seminal vesicles.
    • Pelvic lymph nodes.
  • Whether your PSA remained elevated post-surgery.
  • The planned radiation dose. (I left this set at their default value of 65 Gy because I had no idea.)
  • Whether you will be undergoing hormone therapy before or along with radiation. (I checked “No” as there has been no discussion of that so far.)

After plugging all of that information in, here are my results:

Cleveland Clinic Nomogram

Cleveland Clinic Salvage Radiation Therapy nomogram link: https://riskcalc.org/ProstateCancerAfterRadicalProstatectomyNew/

The CC nomogram asks you to provide:

  • Whether you will be receiving SRT alone or with concurrent Androgen Deprivation Therapy.
  • Surgical Gleason score.
  • Extracapsular extension.
  • Surgical margin status.
  • Seminal vesicle invasion.
  • Pre-SRT PSA level.
  • Prostate Bed Radiation Dose. [It was interesting to note that CC defaulted this to a dose greater than or equal to 6600 Gy, but it does give you the option to select “<6600”. To be able to compare the CC nomogram results with the MSKCC results, I changed that to be <6600 Gy so the doses would be similar.]

My results are below (click to enlarge):

Interestingly, if I bump up the radiation dose to >=6600 Gy, then my percentages change to 65% free at 5 years and 53% free at 10 years. That makes sense, but do higher radiation doses translate into higher risk of side effects? I’m guessing so. Something to ask the radiation oncologist on Thursday.

Conclusion

Certainly, those are average to good probabilities, but are they good enough to risk impact to quality of life? I don’t know. Of course, the next step is to dig deeper into the risks of real impact on quality of life after salvage radiation.

I’m thankful to everyone who provided information about their own experiences, either here in comments on my previous posts or in other forums. They’ve been very insightful and give me an understanding of the range of possibilities to expect. But each case is unique, and I have to remember that, should I choose this, my case will be different from everyone else’s.

More to come.

Month 135 – Approaching SRT Decision Point

My visit with the urologist this week went about as expected.

We talked about my PSMA PET scan results—negative—and he was of the mindset that those would be the expected results at my PSA level. The scan isn’t reliably sensitive enough when the PSA is hovering around 0.2 ng/ml.

With my steadily increasing PSA, he said that there’s cancer there somewhere. In his view, it’s likely location is still in the prostate bed, but we can’t rule out that there aren’t micro-metastases elsewhere.

In reviewing the totality of my case, he commented, “This is one of the trickier cases I’ve seen.” I don’t believe he was too offended when I replied, “No shit, Sherlock.” I guess my frustration of dealing with this over the years came out a little too strong.

What puzzled him about my case is how long after my surgery the PSA returned and how slowly it was increasing over the years. That led to a discussion about PSA doubling time and how my doubling time is shortening at an accelerating rate.

As part of that discussion, I asked him how many data points should be included in the PSA doubling time calculations, and he typically uses only the last three to get a current snapshot of where it is now. (I re-ran my numbers when I got home, and using the last three PSAs, my doubling time is 19.9 months.)

Of course, the engineer in me had to play with that a little, so I went through my PSA spreadsheet and calculated the PSA doubling time if I used the last three values after each test. The results were all over the place:

His recommendation, of course, was salvage radiation to the prostate bed.

He thought that salvage radiation still had a chance of being curative at this point, and given that I’m 64 years old, he thought that I would have plenty of years ahead of me should I choose to go down that path.

We talked about long-term side effects. He thought that there was a 20% to 30% chance that my stress incontinence would worsen, as would my sexual function given where it’s currently at now. He wasn’t confident enough to speak about the chances of rectal issues, at least in the numbers that I was seeking. I expressed concern about the incontinence, and he reminded me that they can take care of that with an artificial sphincter. Great. Another surgery.

I did ask how much longer I could kick this can a little farther down the road, and he didn’t seem to think that that was a good idea at this point. My stomach turned into knots.

We agreed to set up the consult with the radiation oncologist, as well as retest my PSA in early April.

Wednesday afternoon, I received a call from the scheduler trying to set up the radiation oncologist referral. She gave me the option of going to Naval Medical Center San Diego—where I used to work and had a previous referral—or going to University of California San Diego (UCSD). As good a medical treatment facility as NMCSD is, I opted for UCSD. If nothing else than for a second perspective, plus I believe UCSD will have more state-of-the-art equipment and a lower turnover rate in medical teams.

Thursday, morning, UCSD called and we’re set up to meet next Thursday, 17 February 2022. I was a little surprised when they told me that it would be at their Radiation Oncology center that’s about three-quarters of a mile (one kilometer) from my house instead of their main hospital in San Diego.


As you regular readers already know, I’ve been fearful of getting to this point for a while now. Whether my fears are irrational, unfounded or not, I don’t know, but they’re real for me.

My fears center more on having very real, quality of life-impacting side effects from the radiation than on whether or not the radiation will be curative. For some inexplicable reason, my gut intuition is that something will go awry and I’ll be in that 1% or 3% or 10%—or whatever it is—group that gets to experience those side effects impacting quality of life. The radiation oncologist is going to have to give a strong sales pitch to convince me the risks are minimal.

There will be ton of soul-searching and thinking in the days and weeks ahead.

Stay tuned.

Day 4,054 – PSMA PET Results

They were late. I hate tardiness. 🙂

Again, going into this, I knew that there was a 50-50 shot that the PSMA PET scan would be able to pick up anything at my PSA level, and it appears that I fell into the “we didn’t see anything” category:

ONCOLOGIC FINDINGS:

History of prostate cancer status post prostatectomy with biochemical
recurrence with:
– No focal PSMA-uptake in the prostatectomy bed.
– No PSMA-PET/CT evidence for distant metastasis.

The fact that they didn’t see anything in my prostate bed and elsewhere is both a good and bad thing. Good, in that whatever cancer may be there was so small that the scan couldn’t pick it up. Bad, in that the scan wasn’t sensitive enough to pick things up at my PSA level (0.22 ng/ml).

As a reminder, I’m just looking at the printout of my results online, and am not yet in a conversation with my doctor about the results, so I’m a little reluctant to come to too many conclusions about some other comments in the report without the benefit of his expertise. There was a section labeled:

INDETERMINATE FINDING:

– Focus of intense PSMA-uptake at the left lung lower lobe (fused 4-263)
without CT correlate, likely a PSMA injection thrombus, not favored to
represent metastatic disease.
Attention on follow up.

I added the emphasis above, but it’s something that raises an eyebrow and probably warrants further monitoring or investigation as suggested. That’s something I’ll speak with the doctor about.

Speaking of speaking with the doctor, when I had my appointment in early November, we agreed to schedule a follow-up appointment to go over the scan results in January. However, the first available appointment wasn’t until the first week of February. I’m going to work on moving that earlier, even if it’s a call-in appointment instead of an in-person appointment.


Am I happy with the results? Sort of.

We know from my rising PSA that there’s cancer somewhere in some quantity. While this may be a “false negative,” it’s nice to know that I didn’t light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. That would have been bad.

Will this cause me to run to the radiation oncologist to start salvage radiation right away based on my PSA alone? Nope. I have another PSA test in January, and if that stays in the 0.21-0.22 range, I’ll be content to continue my monitoring. But if it shoots up drastically, that may cause me to reconsider.

Was it worth $3,300 out-of-pocket? I don’t know. I’m going to get back to you on that one. 🙂

So that’s my PSMA PET scan story, and I’m sticking to it.

If I don’t post again before Christmas, I hope you have a great holiday season!

Be well!

Eleven Years

It was eleven years ago today that I received my diagnosis and began this little adventure, and I’m glad that, eleven years later, I’m still here to write about it. Of course, the fact that I’d be writing about it eleven years later never even crossed my mind when I started this little ol’ blog back then. Even so, I’m glad that I’ve kept it going.


On Tuesday, I had my appointment with the urologist to review my latest PSA results. In all honesty, it was probably a waste of both of our time and should have been postponed until after the PSMA PET scan.

Because today is Veterans Day, a federal holiday, they didn’t book any appointments in the clinic for today, so that meant that they overbooked appointments on Tuesday. That meant that the doctor was really pressed for time, and I was okay with keeping the meeting short.

The whole conversation went like this:

Dr.: Hi. What’s the status of the PSMA PET scan?

Me: It’s scheduled on 30 November.

Dr.: How are we going to get the results?

Me: I don’t know. I have to figure that out with UCLA. Not to sound rude, but given how new this is, are you going to know what to do with the results?

Dr. Oh, yeah. Not a problem. You can just hand-carry the results if you want. Everything else okay?

Me: Yep. Fine. So if the PSMA scan shows the cancer is still in the prostate bed, and given my PSA doubling time is 45 months, what do you see as the next step?

Dr.: Radiation. (Said without a hint of hesitancy.)

Me: Uh, okay.

And that was basically the conversation, with a few other minor details and questions not worthy of putting in writing. I don’t think she picked up on my reluctance to get zapped or, if she did, it was something that she, as the physician, wanted to overrule.

We agreed to schedule a follow-up in January with another PSA test in advance of the meeting and, hopefully, with the PSMA PET scan results in hand for all. For some reason, they get slammed just before and after the holidays, and the first available appointment was 8 February. I’m generally okay with that, but if the scan and the early January PSA tests reveal something compelling, I’ll try to reschedule sometime earlier.

So that’s about how I expected the appointment to go (even without the rushing).


Oh. I almost forgot. I’m now retired from work! Woo-hoo!

Yes, I took the leap, perhaps a little sooner than I expected, but that’s okay. I added everything up and it was just time.

I’ll be 64 years old in January, and there isn’t a whole lot of longevity in our family. Dad died at 69; his mom died at 69; and mom died at 73. I can’t say that the past is prologue, but you get the picture. As cliché as it is, tomorrow isn’t promised and, after 40+ years in the workforce, I wanted to reserve my tomorrows for me. Selfish, I know. 😄

Given where I’m at in my cancer journey, I also wanted to use as many good tomorrows as I can before radiation, hormone therapy, or the disease itself turns them into bad tomorrows.

Finally, frustration at work exceeded fun and rewards, so that was another good indicator that it was time to start the next chapter of my life.

My last day was 29 October, so I’m still adapting, trying to find a new routine. (It’s challenging going from 100 m.p.h. to zero!) I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I have another trip in the near future, and I’m excited about that.

So that’s it for this post.

Be well!

Exceptions to “early salvage” radiation treatment for recurrence after prostatectomy — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK

Here’s an interesting article about salvage radiation.

Three major randomized clinical trials and a meta-analysis have proved that for most men waiting for early signs of recurrence after prostatectomy (e.g., three consecutive PSA rises or a PSA of 0.1 ng/ml) to give radiation gave the same outcome as immediate (“adjuvant”) radiation (see this link). But there are exceptions. In some men, adjuvant […]

Exceptions to “early salvage” radiation treatment for recurrence after prostatectomy — THE “NEW” PROSTATE CANCER INFOLINK

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!