Day 3,081 – PSA Discussion with Doctor

IMG_20190418_134348455While waiting for my appointment with the doctor this afternoon, I got caught up on reading about the new Datsun 280ZX in the waiting room in the May 1981 edition of Road & Track magazine. Seriously. That thing belonged in the National Archives, not the doctor’s waiting room. Needless to say, it was a fun trip down memory lane, as I had just graduated from college three months earlier and was driving my 1974 Ford Galaxie 500 (my first car).

The discussion with the doctor went about as expected. In a nutshell: Continue to monitor; no action needed at this point given my PSA level and my PSA doubling time of 155 months. (Calculated using the Memorial Sloan-Kettering PSADT nomogram.)

She told me something new, too, concerning the explanation for some of the very minor fluctuations in PSA levels. I knew that physical activity and having orgasms before a blood draw could impact your PSA level, but she said that even variations in your hydration level can cause minor variations in your PSA readings. Interesting.

Just for grins and giggles, I asked her the $64,000 question: How do you define biochemical recurrence?

There was quite a long pregnant pause before she responded, “That’s a difficult question to answer.” She explained the that it’s been defined many ways and, while she never did answer my question directly, my impression was that she was in the “two or more consecutive increases in your PSA level” camp.

One thing the doctor said, too, was that she has seen cases where patients PSAs start increasing and then plateau and sit there for years without much change at all and no need for intervention.

She also suggested that, given where my PSA level was and how slowly it was moving, that we could retest in six months instead of sticking to the four month schedule that I’ve been using for the last three and a half years. I agreed. I return on 22 October 2019.

Again, the meeting went pretty much as I expected it would, and I’m okay with what we discussed.


I had a great trip to Switzerland in the first half of the month despite some dodgy weather (which is to be expected in northern climates in April). If you’re interested in reading about it (or at least just looking at some photos), you can check it out on my other blog, Travelin’ Dan.

Day 3,060 – PSA Results: WTF?!?

Okay. Sorry to use the vernacular, but what the f*ck?!? My PSA went down from 0.13 ng/ml to 0.10 ng/ml!

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But, seriously, WTF?

This is great news, but when you get yourself psyched up for yet another increase (after 3.5 years of pretty steady increases), it certainly plays games with your mind when the number goes in the opposite direction in a substantial way. Did I ever mention that I hate this disease?

I can’t wait to hear what the urologist has to say about this on 18 April. It should be entertaining.

So that’s that. Go figure.

PSA 20190326

Dr. Daniel George on PSA Recurrence

This article discussing PSA recurrence showed up in my reader about the same time that I went for my PSA test, so it was pretty timely.

I’m not a subscriber to Protastatepedia, so I can’t see the full articles that they post.

https://wp.me/p4yQj7-zm

One of the things that Dr. George talks about is the PSA doubling time as an indicator to aggressiveness. Using the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center PSADT calculator, my doubling time was 35 months before this week’s reading; now it’s at 155 months.

Yes, that last reading is most likely and anomaly skewing the results. Or perhaps the 0.13 reading was the anomaly and I’ve been holding steady at the 0.10-0.11 range for a while. The next test will tell.

I like the idea of treating this as more of a chronic illness than something to go after aggressively given my numbers. We’ll have that discussion with the doctor on 18 April.


Getting on my soapbox for a second…

Prostatepedia certainly doesn’t seem to want to engage their readers. I left a comment on their blog and, when it wasn’t even moderated let alone answered, I left the same comment on their Facebook page. It’s now gone.

If you’re not going to acknowledge reader comments, Prostatepedia, why bother giving us the option to do comment in the first place?

Here’s what I wrote:

Thank you for a good overview of biochemical recurrence, but there’s one thing that you’ve omitted from the article: how biochemical recurrence is defined.

I know that for years, BCR after a radical prostatectomy was defined as hitting a PSA level of 0.2 ng/ml. But with the advent of the ultra sensitive PSA test, I’ve seen some suggest that BCR occurs with a PSA as low as 0.03 ng/ml. Others define it as three consecutive increases in PSA regardless of the value. Not having a clear and widely accepted definition is infuriating to those of us with an increasing PSA.

Cookson, et al., did a review of published articles on the topic of BCR (J Urol. 2007 Feb;177(2):540-5.). They reviewed 145 articles and found 53 different definitions of BCR. Needless to say, from a patient’s perspective, that just boggles the mind.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17222629/

I had a radical prostatectomy in January 2011, and had undetectable PSAs for 54 months when it became detectable at 0.05 ng/ml in September 2015. We’ve been testing every four months ever since, and my most recent PSA in December was 0.13 ng/ml. Using the MSK PSADT calculator, my PSADT is around 32 months.

Last May, I saw a radiation oncologist for the first time when my PSA was at 0.11 ng/ml, and he recommended starting salvage radiation therapy right away. Given my slow PSADT, I opted to continue to monitor. When I saw the urologist in December, he said that I haven’t even hit BCR yet because I hadn’t hit 0.2 ng/ml.

So on the one hand, I have one professional telling me that I have recurrence and the earlier we start SRT, the better the outcome chances are and, on the other hand, I have another professional telling me that I don’t even have recurrence yet. Frustrating.

I’m not asking for medical advice on what I should do, but I do believe that ANY discussion about biochemical recurrence includes how recurrence is defined and/or how the definition is evolving.

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Day 2,960 – Meeting with the Urologist

One thing that I’ve learned along this journey is that every doctor has his or her own take on the situation and what should be done, and very few of those opinions match. They can’t even agree on standard definitions.

This afternoon’s meeting with yet another urologist proved to be interesting at best and a tad frustrating at worst.

He was a younger doctor but the interesting thing was that he held to the belief that I haven’t had a biochemical recurrence yet and won’t until I hit the magical 0.2 ng/ml. I was a bit taken aback by that given what everyone else has been telling me for the last two years. He also talked about the newer ultra-sensitive PSA tests, but hung on to the definition that anything less than 0.1 ng/ml was “undetectable.” In his mind, my PSA at 0.13 was “very low.”

We talked at length about my PSA doubling time, and that was one area that we came to consensus on. That having a PSADT of more than two years was a good thing. He seemed quite interested in seeing the results of the Memorial Sloan Kettering PSADT calculator, which had my doubling time at 35 months (based on only four data points because their calculator accepts only those values >= 0.1 ng/ml). (I also had my PSA tracking chart printed out and sitting on his desk when he walked in.)

I asked him about what his experience was with dealing with the long-term side effects of salvage radiation therapy as a urologist—how frequently they occurred and what severity they were. He went through the list of things that I had already known, and said in his “whole career” he had seen only three or four cases that were significant. (Note: His “whole career” spanned all of six years. I’ve had cancer 8 years.)

Lastly, we talked about the Ga68 PSMA imaging trial going on at UCLA. It was clear he was aware of the research, but wasn’t at all familiar with the details or requirements of the trial. I didn’t expect him to be well-versed on the topic, but it was clear that I knew a bit more about it than he did, especially when it came to the requirements to participate, (I didn’t tell him that I had actually contacted UCLA.)

He did ask me if I had a PSA threshold in mind where I would want to take action when it comes to salvage radiation therapy. In my mind, if we get into the 0.15 or above range and the PSADT starts to shorten, I’ll have to strongly consider the next steps. But I did bring up the Freedland study that shows, with my numbers, I can do nothing and have a 94% chance of being around in 15 years.

Normally, I don’t mind seeing younger doctors because sometimes they’re more familiar with the latest research and current treatment philosophies than their older counterparts. I’ll take his input with a grain of salt considering how he’s not in line with the thinking of some of the others that I’ve seen in the last year or two.

In the end, we agreed to kick the can down the road and do another PSA test in four months in April 2019.

I’m still interested in speaking with a radiation oncologist about this again. I may try emailing the one I saw in May or just ask for another referral after the beginning of the new year.

It was a bit of an odd consult. I’ll just forge my own path forward and we’ll see where that leads. In the meantime….

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and the healthiest, happiest New Year possible!

—Dan

IMG_20171207_140153690
We have to improvise here in San Diego!

A review of PET Imaging for Recurrent Prostate Cancer

This is a quite informative paper from Practical Radiation Oncology, giving a good overview of the newer imaging technologies being developed to identify the location of recurrent prostate cancer before beginning salvage radiation therapy.

Prostate cancer–specific PET radiotracers: A review on the clinical utility in recurrent disease

I’ll comment in a separate post on where my head is at after receiving my latest PSA results.

Eight Years

It was eight years ago today that I learned that I had prostate cancer. I had no idea then what would transpire in the days and weeks ahead, and I certainly had no idea that I’d still be dealing with it—and writing about it—eight years later.

You’ve heard me say multiple times that, once you introduce the word cancer into your vocabulary, it never goes away, even if the disease does. There will always be that little cloud called “fear of recurrence” that will follow you around for the rest of your days.

You’ve also seen me throw around the phrase cancer-free with each successive undetectable post-surgery PSA test. It’s hard not to. With each undetectable test result over time, you become more confident that you have this beat. You get lulled into a sense of routine and PSA tests become less scary. But because cancer is so insidious, there’s a danger in using words like cancer-free and cured.

My first indication of biochemical recurrence 54 months after surgery was an utterly unexpected slap upside the head. “Not so fast, fool!”

Ever since then, I’ve become a big fan of NED—No Evidence of Disease—as a better descriptor of how successful a treatment option has been because it accounts for that little recurrence cloud. Saying cancer-free or cure implies a finality. You’re done. It’s behind you. A decade later, you may find out that no, in fact, you’re not done with cancer.

Some may say that’s a rather dismal outlook on things and that we need to be optimistic. Perhaps. I prefer to be more realistic, obviously as a result of my own recurrence experience. And, just because I had recurrence, it doesn’t mean that others will as well. You may live the rest of your days with no evidence of disease and, if you do, more power to you.

There is good news. It’s eight years later and I’m still here, still pretty much fully functioning, and still writing.

After eight years, I’ve learned:

  • Be optimistic but understand that, with cancer, there are no guarantees.
  • Research, research, and research some more, but step away and take time for your mental health.
  • We may think that we’re fighting a battle, but the reality is that the cancer is in control and we’re simply reacting to the next treatment or test result.

My next PSA test will be on 6 December 2018 if all goes to plan. Will it remain stable at 0.11 ng/ml, or will it return to an upward movement? Stay tuned.

Work life and my travels over the last three months or so have been so busy that I haven’t thought, read, or researched about prostate cancer much at all. It’s been a pleasant break. But the one thing that has been lingering in the back of my mind is the trial of 68Ga-PSMA-11 PET/CT Molecular Imaging for Prostate Cancer Salvage Radiotherapy Planning [PSMA-SRT] at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

I’m not sure that I would want to enroll in the full-blown trial itself, but I would like to learn whether or not I could get the scan outside of the trial, even if it’s at my own expense. I’d really like to know that we’re zapping where the cancer is located instead of blindly, based on statistics, if I do choose salvage radiation therapy. It’s something I’ll discuss with the urologist on 18 December 2018.

Month 91 – Random Meetings and Thoughts

It was bound to happen. The other day I ran into my radiation oncologist in the little convenience store in the hospital where both of us work. It was kind of funny. There was his initial reaction when he saw me and recalled who I was, “Hey, howyadoin’?” he asked, followed quickly by a slight tinge of panic wondering if I was going to assault him with a battery of follow-up questions right next to the granola bars and packaged nuts. I didn’t. “Hi, Doc! How are you?” is all I replied, much to his relief, I’m sure.

A few days later, I was back in the convenience store standing in line behind a bearded 30-something guy in black scrubs. I commented, “Black scrubs? I don’t know that I’d want you coming into my room if I were a patient here. It would look like the Grim Reaper is coming to pay a visit.” (For being a terminal introvert, I can be good at striking up conversations with complete strangers.) He laughed and we chatted some more. “Where do you work?” I asked. “Radiation Oncology, so I suppose the black scrubs take on added meaning there.” He was one of their radiation technicians, and I didn’t bother to tell him that he may be zapping me someday soon.

All of that has highlighted me to resolve another internal debate that I’ve been having with myself: Whether or not to inform my coworkers of my recurrence.

I work for a small nonprofit that has a staff of 22 employees, plus, more and more staff members at the hospital know me because of the reach that our organization has there. In essence, we’re family. If I do choose to get zapped 75 steps away from my office, the chances of someone I work with seeing me entering or leaving Radiation Oncology are pretty good. “Surprise!”

Beyond that, I questioned why I want to share this with my work family. To have more shoulders to lean on? To let them know why I’m so distracted and distant some days? If I’m perfectly honest with myself, it’s a little bit of all of that. But I also know from experience that, when I shared my story with my coworkers shortly after being initially diagnosed, a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. “A burden shared is a burden halved,” someone once said, and there’s truth in that.

I was all set to share my story until tragedy struck when one of our staff members passed away unexpectedly. That put my little plan on pause, appropriately so.

Part of me is thankful for the pause. On reflection, I may be putting additional indirect pressure on the decision-making. If I’ve got 44 eyeballs looking at this introvert in anticipation of a decision, that could be nerve-wracking. Perhaps it’s best to wait to share my story until after I make the decision, that way there won’t be the second-guessing that comes when people question your choice, if not overtly, at least by that puzzled glance.

Speaking of the decision, I don’t know that I’m any closer to it. I continue to research for a few hours each week, reading articles and journals, and I’m coming to the conclusion that I probably have enough information on the treatment and its side effects to make the call. I’m not going to find that magical “a-ha” paper that swings the decision one way or the other.

One of the hang-ups that I have though, is the lack of ability to determine where the cancer is at my current PSA levels. I really would like to know with a high degree of confidence that we’re zapping in the right place. Yet, one article sticks in my mind where the author wrote, “That would be a self-fulfilling prophecy: by waiting for the cancer to put out more PSA [so the imaging could detect it], one is virtually ensuring that the cancer will grow, spread, and possibly metastasize.” Food for thought.

In my head, I’m thinking we wait for the August PSA results and go from there. Perhaps take a nice autumn vacation and, if I choose to get zapped, do so not long after I return. Or not. (Definitely the vacation part, though. I need that!)

Day 2,758 – Heads or Tails

IMG_5341That’s what it’s coming down to, or so it seems. Using the ultimate “executive decision-making aid” to determine what I’m going to do.

What brought this on? Another email exchange between me and my radiation oncologist.

Over the weekend, a few more questions popped into my head and I wanted to get his response. Yesterday, I fired off an email asking if any advances in radiation delivery technology or methods in the last 10-15 years improved the side effect outcomes over the studies he shared with me. In short, the answer was no—there were no appreciable changes.

Of greater interest to me was his interpretation of the Freedland study, which shows that I can do nothing and have a 94% chance of being around 15 years from now. His response:

I am familiar with the study you included, and it is one of many retrospective reviews on this subject. The authors preformed a retrospective review on a total 379 patients over period of 18 years from 1982 – 2000. Therefore, although the data are valuable and contribute to the literature, I consider it (as well as the many other studies on this subject) thought provoking.

Perhaps I’m reading too much between the lines, but his last sentence translates into “skeptical of the study” to me. He continued:

The bottom line is that you have a biochemical recurrence with a low, slowly rising PSA.  Do you need radiation treatment now, sometime in the future or never?  I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but there are data to suggest “the earlier the better” and other data to suggest treatment might not be needed at all.  It depends on your point of view…

Am I upset by that response? Not really. It’s pretty much what I expected it to be, and that tells me that my research has been quite thorough. He and I both landed at the same place.

Will it make deciding my course of action any easier? Hell no. But it does reinforce that it’s my decision, and my decision alone.

Now where did I put those Eisenhower dollar coins again???