Actor Ben Stiller got serious this week by revealing he had prostate cancer in 2014. In an essay published on Medium, Stiller describes what it was like to get the diagnosis and why he's grateful to his doctor for administering a test that detected it early.
"I got diagnosed with prostate cancer Friday, June 13th, 2014," Stiller writes. "On September 17th of that year I got a test back telling me I was cancer free. The three months in between were a crazy roller coaster ride with which about 180,000 men a year in America can identify."
Stiller credits the prostate-specific antigen test, which measures the amount of PSA in the blood, for his early detection. "Taking the PSA test saved my life. Literally," he says.
"There has been a lot of controversy over the test in the last few years," Stiller explains. "Articles and op-eds on whether it is safe, studies that seem to be interpreted in many different ways, and debates about whether men should take it all."
The American Cancer Society recommends men at average risk wait until age 50 for the test, while the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force advises against it entirely. However, even though Stiller was not in a high-risk group and didn't have prostate cancer in his family history, his doctor gave him a "baseline" PSA test at age 46.
Stiller was tested every six months, with the numbers rising for a year and a half until his doctor sent him to a urologist. He had an MRI and a biopsy before he was diagnosed at age 48. He then underwent a prostatectomy that got all of the cancer.
"As of this writing I am two years cancer free and extremely grateful," he says.
Although Stiller's experience with the PSA test was ultimately positive, Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, pointed out the negatives to CNN. "They sometimes miss cancer that needs to be found, and they find cancer that doesn't need to be found," he said. Unnecessary treatment can have health risks like incontinence and impotence.
Stiller acknowledges criticism of the test, but he believes it is important in detecting "asymptomatic" cases like his and argues that patients should have the opportunity to discuss it with their doctors. "This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one," he writes. "But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early."
You can read Stiller's full essay here.
Cover image: Lucky Team Studio / Shutterstock.com