How a simple blood test saved my life from prostate cancer

It's three years since Trevor Laffan was diagnosed with cancer and life has pretty much returned to normal
How a simple blood test saved my life from prostate cancer

A sky blue ribbon is used to raise awareness of prostate cancer in September, and Trevor Laffan is keen to spread the word

ABOUT 3,890 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in this country, according to the Irish Cancer Society.

To put it another way, one in seven men will get a diagnosis of prostate cancer during their lifetime. A scary statistic whichever way you look at it.

It’s a disease that is more common than you may have thought, but on the positive side, it’s very treatable when caught in time.

As with all cancers, early detection is vital, so men need to be aware of the symptoms. They should also know it’s possible to develop prostate cancer without displaying any symptoms so it’s all about awareness and being proactive. It’s important to get checked regularly.

This is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which fits in nicely with my medical calendar. 

September 25, 2018, was the date of my surgery, so this is the third anniversary of the removal of my own diseased prostate.

I’ve just had my most recent check-up and I got the thumbs up from my consultant. So far, so good, and that marks another milestone but I’m not getting complacent either.

Blood tests continue to be part of my life now, and that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that because it was a simple blood test that saved my life three years ago.

I had none of the usual symptoms associated with prostate cancer, but my annual check-up showed a rise in my prostate specific antigen (PSA) level. I had no idea what that was until my GP explained it to me.

PSA is a protein produced by normal cells in the prostate and also by prostate cancer cells. It’s normal to have a small amount of PSA in your blood, and the amount rises slightly as you get older and your prostate gets bigger. So while a rise isn’t proof that something is wrong, it can provide an early indication that further exploration could be necessary. It’s a red flag.

In my case, the GP recommended further tests, which led to an MRI and then a biopsy, and the results confirmed I had prostate cancer.

It didn’t come as a shock to me because I had been preparing myself for the worst, but I didn’t like that diagnosis either. Nobody likes the word ‘cancer’, especially when it’s associated with their own body.

Once I got that news, there was only one course of action as far as I was concerned - get it out of me as soon as possible.

That was three years ago, and my life has pretty much returned to normal since then. I know of other guys who were going through it at the same and it turned out fine for them too, which proves that a diagnosis of prostate cancer isn’t the end of the world if it’s caught in time and the best way to achieve that is to have regular blood tests.

I’m alive today to tell the story thanks to a timely blood test, a good GP and the skill of a surgeon. A bit of good fortune helped too because I was told after the surgery that the cancer was about to migrate beyond the prostate.

Surgery was the right option for me. There was no time for messing around.

Looking back on it now, the tests leading up to the diagnosis were the most stressful part of the journey. The actual surgery and the recovery were nothing to get too worked up about and the stress disappeared as soon as the prostate did.

Follow-up visits with my consultant continued every three months for the first year, and then became half yearly after that, and now they have been reduced to an annual check. All good so far.

I have written about this topic previously, and I have no difficulty talking about it. I will talk to anybody who wants my opinion on any aspect of the process from start to finish, and I am more than happy to do so at any time.

Other guys who have gone though it are doing the same thing because we all appreciate the importance of creating awareness.

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is vital, which is why there are so many awareness campaigns taking place throughout the year. This is life and death stuff, so we need to keep talking.

A friend of mine told me he was having some prostate trouble but was reluctant to discuss it with his GP because he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. That needs to change. There is no room for embarrassment here.

I have received a number of phone calls in recent times from men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. They mostly wanted reassurance in relation to the surgery, the recovery and possible side effects and that’s OK.

We need to be having these conversations and spreading the message so here it is again.

Get regular blood tests and don’t ignore any symptoms. Not all prostate issues are cancer-related but if cancer is an issue, then it’s very treatable when caught in time. It doesn’t always require surgery either.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, prostate cancer often grows slowly and doesn’t cause any symptoms for a long time, if at all, and usually only when it has grown large enough to disturb your bladder or press on the tube that drains urine.

The symptoms include passing urine more often, especially at night, trouble starting or stopping the flow, a slow flow of urine and pain when passing urine. Less common symptoms include blood in the urine or semen and a feeling of not emptying your bladder fully.

If you have any of these, don’t ignore them. Contact your doctor. Better again, don’t wait for signs, just get a blood test.

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