By Elaine WilsonSeptember 18, 2008
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas --- Seven years ago, Brad Barrett was 41 and retiring from the Air Force. Healthy all his life, he figured his final medical exam prior to separation would be a breeze.
The doctors ordered a full range of tests, including a prostate-specific antigen blood test, which is used to detect prostate cancer. The choice to conduct the test was somewhat out of the ordinary; it's not routine until men reach age 50.
It turned out to be a good choice for Barrett. Test results showed his PSA levels were rising, a possible indicator of a prostate problem.
"My level was higher than usual but not at a level to warrant a biopsy at the time," said Barrett, now working for Army Emergency Management, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security here.
Doctors recommended Barrett take the test annually and four years ago, his PSA level was high enough to cause concern and a biopsy was ordered.
"The results showed I had early-stage prostate cancer," Barrett said.
The news was upsetting, particularly when Barrett thought about the consequences if he had not undergone the test as early as he did.
"I was really lucky," he said.
Barrett successfully underwent radiation therapy, one of several options for treating prostate cancer, and so far the treatment has been effective. However, he still must go for a test every six months for five years.
"It's traumatic the days and weeks before a test," he said. "Before I take the test, I always wonder, will I live or die'"
Although it's not highly publicized, prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting one in six men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The cancer is more commonly seen in older men. More than 65 percent of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over age 65. The risk of developing prostate cancer is 1 in 10,000 for men under age 40, but shoots up to 1 in 14 for men ages 60 to 69.
Race and Family history play a role in men's risk for prostate cancer. According to the foundation, African-American men are 61 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer compared with Caucasian men and are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease. Men with a first-degree relative - father, brother or son - with a history of prostate cancer are also at a higher risk; they are twice as likely to develop the disease.
In its early stages, like with Barrett, many men will not experience any symptoms, underscoring the need for testing. The American Cancer Society recommends an annual PSA blood test and digital rectal exam beginning at age 50. Men at high risk should begin testing at age 40 or 45 depending on Family history.
An early detection can prove a lifesaver. Nearly 100 percent of men diagnosed when the cancer is in the local and regional stages will be disease-free after five years, according to the foundation.
Barrett hopes to be one of those success stories.
"I didn't have a Family history or other risk factors," he said. "I'm just very grateful my military doctors went the extra mile and ordered that test."
For more information on prostate cancer, visit www.prostatecancerfoundation.org.