Prostate problems are incredibly common in men over the age of 40. In the past, doctors would recommend aggressive tests and treatment—from biopsies to radiation to prostatectomies. The track record for such invasive methods hasn’t been perfect. In fact, tens of thousands of men every year suffer from intolerable pain, incontinence, and impotence as a result of their side effects.
Enter Dr. Jay Cohen, a nationally recognized medical researcher and author known for his activism in the field of medication safety. Dr. Cohen was diagnosed in 2011 with prostate cancer and, like most men in his situation, was told by his doctor that he’d need surgery or radiation.
Rather than immediately going with his doctor’s advice, he launched a year-long project to find out everything he could about his condition, the latest research on prostate cancer, the newest technologies for diagnosing and treating it, and cutting-edge treatment modalities and their success rates. His research draws from interviews with leading specialists and pioneers in their field, patients and support groups, and his own personal experience.
The result is an impressive and highly useful guide that every man over the age of 40 will want to own. In Prostate Cancer Breakthroughs: New Tests, New Treatments, Better Options (2013), Dr. Cohen shares the leading-edge diagnostic tests for prostate cancer and explains eight medically proven treatments.
The book is organized exactly the way one would need to use it. It starts with step 1—the PSA test—and continues through each step of the process a patient would logically follow. Men learn what an elevated PSA level really is—and isn’t. What it isn’t, says Dr. Cohen, is an automatic indication that the patient has prostate cancer, or that he needs a biopsy.
He explains what questions to ask before proceeding to each next stage of tests or treatments. We learn about tests that even many doctors don’t know about yet. In fact, Dr. Cohen says, it can take 10-15 years for new technologies to reach doctors and change their methods. But he rightly points out that men with prostate cancer don’t have the luxury of waiting.
The big idea behind this book is that every man who has an elevated PSA, enlarged prostate, or prostate cancer of some type or degree now has access to more options and can customize, with his doctor, a treatment approach that’s appropriate to his specific test results, situation, and preferences. Treating prostate cancer, in other words, is no longer a one-size-fits-all process. That was a 20th-century model.
Dr. Cohen says the 21st-century model favors more accurate tests followed by a less aggressive, more tailored treatment approach, if warranted. That’s because research has shown that up to 85 percent of all men who have prostate cancer don’t require surgery or radiation. Yet most get the treatment because they don’t know about better and newer options.
In 14 logical steps, Dr. Cohen highlights the salient features of different diagnostic tests and treatments, and includes helpful resources, pros and cons, and explanations of test results and how to interpret them. The last section of the book gives readers a way to keep track of their ongoing test results and make informed decisions about how to proceed at every stage of their condition over time.
How did Dr. Cohen’s cancer story end? After undergoing the newest-available tests and conducting dozens of interviews with top doctors, he learned that his test results did not warrant invasive treatment. “With the new technologies available today, I could actually see my cancer,” he said. “It’s modest in size, in a safe location, and there’s no sign of spread.” As a result of having access to this detailed information, he is now enrolled in what he calls “active surveillance,” which he describes as repeating the tests and meeting with his doctor regularly. “My prostate cancer remains under excellent control without medications.”
Dr. Cohen hopes to likewise empower other patients. If you love someone who is worried about his prostate health, I highly recommend this book. Typical of Dr. Cohen’s other books, Prostate Cancer Breakthroughs is unbiased, thoroughly researched, and eminently useful and informative.