Friday, November 9, 2018
Never Go On A Prostate Cancer Forum And Suggest PSA Screening Cost Control - You'll Be Seen As an Emissary Of The Grim Reaper
Barbara Ehrenreich is trying to get more oldsters to just accept death instead of getting more and more screening tests in old age which often pave the way for treatments that can have more dire consequences than the disease they're designed to control.
Jeez, I don't know. I did my best some two weeks ago to convince oldsters in a prostate cancer forum (Team Inspire) to stop getting PSA screening tests, and they greeted me like I had the plague. What the hell gives? All I was trying to do is get the nation's medical costs down and we know geezers use up more expensive medical care than any other demographic, up to $500m / yr. of which $150 million is spent in the final month of life. Consider: In the 10 years since the financial crisis that works out to a total of $1.5 billion spent in the final month of life.
Why not just be done with that crap and as Barbara Ehrenreich puts it (The Nation, 'The Great Equalizer', October, p. 32):
"No matter how much effort we expend, not everything is potentially within our control, not even our own bodies and minds. In death we will once again be equals - and so an egalitarian politics also means accepting this outcome.
You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible means to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever surprising world around us."
Of course, most Americans are squeamish in terms of death - even discussing it, tending toward euphemisms- and more likely to buy into the codswallop of the longevity researchers. That would be a clique of life extension quacks and fanatics (many of whom have M.D. or Ph.D. behind their names) who believe many of us could even live to 142, e.g.
Ehrenreich herself got her wake up call in the course of writing her last book, 'Bright -Sided' in which she used her own breast cancer diagnosis as the basis for a striking critique of the whole "positive thinking" twaddle. In this case, puncturing the trope that people with cancer (like me, prostate cancer) are most likely to survive if they keep thinking optimistically about recovery.
Then in her latest book; 'Natural Causes: An Epidemic Of Wellness, The Certainty Of Dying, And Killing Ourselves to Live Longer' , she blows the lid off - revealing the body's macrophages as the ultimate 3rd column enemy. While in normal conditions they are the body's 'blue collar workers' - disposing of dead and injured cells, acting as a vanguard of defense, they can also quickly deviate into a more sinister role - as when they aid and abet cancerous growth. In that case, "they serve as cheerleaders of death accumulating at the site of cancerous tumors and encouraging their growth".
Beyond a certain age, in fact, the battle against mortality becomes essentially futile. In the case of prostate cancer it arrives with what's called "castration resistance". That is, despite the fact testosterone levels have plummeted from hormone therapy, the PSA continues to rise. No further PSA testing will provide any useful info, say to save your life. (One of the reasons for this resistance is that prostate cancer cells are capable of making their own testosterone, hence driving prostate specific antigens higher. Macrophages in action!)
As the latest AARP Bulletin notes ('Should I Get Tested?', November, p. 21), citing research by Kenneth Lin, M.D., based at Georgetown Medical Center:
"No study has shown a decrease in overall mortality with PSA screening for men of any age".
In other words, in terms of the statistical data applied to a vast population of men spanning the age spectrum (of whom 1 of 6 get prostate cancer), the PSA test doesn't make a dime's worth of difference. I take that back, it makes a lot of money for the urologists and testing labs (est. $760m a year, according to one research report on controlling costs for these tests)
Besides which (ibid.):
"The screened groups had much higher rates of complications, including impotence and incontinence. Indeed, the chief sponsors of PSA testing are diaper manufacturers."
(Aside: Of course the preceding presumes one acts on the screening result. Also, at least one PSA test ought to be taken by every guy 50 or older to at least get a baseline for future reference. My arguments here mainly apply to 70 or over guys who get screening tests 2 or more times a year - often paving the way for more severe treatments, with more complications - e.g. urinary stricture, fistula etc.)
With this info in hand from a separate source- an email from the UC Berkeley (n a Cancer Health Alert) I posted the following to the 'Team Inspire' Prostate Cancer Forum under the header: "Stopping PSA Tests After Age 70":
"Most experts agree that people with a life expectancy of 10 years or less don't need routine screening for cancer. One problem is that overscreening can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. For instance, a screening might find a slow-growing cancer that wouldn't cause any harm within a person's lifetime if left undetected, a situation that's common with prostate cancer. If that's the case, it's not worth the burden and anxiety caused by testing and the potential for more—possibly invasive—follow-up procedures.
Yet, according to published studies, too many older adults continue to undergo unnecessary cancer screenings despite age- and health-related recommendations from professional groups.
Three groups that have weighed in on prostate cancer screening are the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), and the American Urological Association (AUA). Following are their current recommendations for when to stop:
•The NCCN recommends ending routine PSA screening at age 75 for all but very healthy men with a significant life expectancy, who are most likely to benefit from detection of aggressive tumors.
•The USPSTF discourages men 70 and older from undergoing prostate cancer screening.
•The AUA recommends against screening men who are 70 and older. However, it notes that men of that age who are in excellent health and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years may benefit from the test.
Other professional organizations have also issued guidance on PSA screening. Clearly, there are no hard-and-fast rules. You and your doctor can use the screening recommendations as a guide, but the decision should be tailored to your overall health, personal preferences, and personal values."
The responses were fairly immediate and included such choice rejoinders as:
"What are you a politician running for office? An insurance company agent? I am sick of you guys coming in here and trying to tell us to try to control costs and not to get these tests! I don't care how much they cost, even if I'm 78 I am gonna get them! Maybe I want to live to 95!"
"I'm in no position to contradict medical science on this, but 70 seems a bit young. Yes, it leaves a "life expectancy" of 10 years (in 2018, living in the U.S., given today's technology), but healthy people with good genes and healthy lifestyles routinely live well into their 90s. My G4+5 was discovered when I was 59. What if it had been 12 years later? Answer: a horrible death from PCa, diagnosed only after I became symptomatic, and far too late to treat it."
"I'm in favor of knowing what's going on if there's a good chance that making a decision based on that knowledge could make an important, positive difference. "
"Of course, I'm not in favor of overtreatment, especially of PCa because of the horrific effects on patients' QoL. To me, it's bizarre that something like ADT exists in the world; it's almost as if it's from the 16th Century, before reason and science began to enter human discourse (if she drowns, she was innocent; if she survives, she's a witch)."
This 72-year old - who cited the savagery of ADT - is spot on. (ADT is among the most barbaric of therapies given it basically destroys what makes a man a man, biologically, i.e. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtIfsvQh2qI )
In a later post he did note a better alternative - with less horror inflicted on the male body: using transdermal (Estradiol) patches.
The 75-year old who invoked "good genes" is living in fantasy land. The latest research, with data extracted from some 400 m people, discloses that genes are responsible for less than 7 percent of life expectancy. This trumps the (up to ) 30 percent from previous studies. (He does have a point in getting tested at age 59).
The character who thought I was a politico ("running for office") or insurance co. person out to gut his right to get as many screening tests as he wants is just plain paranoid. I suspect he maybe needs some brewskies or MJ candy.
Re: The Estradiol patch mentioned, this may also be one of the few options left for me if the cancer spreads. The latest PSA - at my primary care doc's orders - saw a spike from 2.1 last Oct. to 4.0 last month. So it increased at the rate of 0.1 ng/ml per month for 6 months, since my focal cryotherapy in July last year. It then increased at nearly 0.2 ng/ml per month since the previous test in April.
So I am back at the watchful waiting stage and will definitely get an MRI once it hits 6.0 - if it does. My PC doc was gratified to hear that!
Another option, which I suggested in a later post, was first broached by Dr. Betrand Tombal, Chairman of the Division of Urology at the Cliniques universitaires Saint Luc and Professor of Urology at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) in Brussels, Belgium. This was based on an interview given in the online journal Prostapedia Therein, Dr. Tombal indicated he advised patients with soaring PSAs to try the ADT or other hormone therapies, and if side effects (abbreviated SEs) proved too much to just stop them. A final alternative I also cited - based on recent research (published in the Scientific American text on Prostate Disorders) is to just wait to commence ADT until there is actual cancer metastasis.
This sounds crazy in a sense, but as I learned (p. 70):
"Starting hormone therapy before a man has symptoms of cancer metastasis is a mistake. This take is underscored by the fact that hormone treatment doesn't cure prostate cancer and it causes side effects such as erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, heart disease and osteoporosis."
IN a related study, it was found that the rate of deaths for those 70-plus on hormone therapy was twice as likely to be from myocardial infarction than the cancer. All of which elicits the question of how do you pick your time (and mode) of croaking? Because it is coming, and if you're past 70 with aggressive prostate cancer, probably before you hit 80 or 82.
Those guys talking about living into their 90s or to at least 95 are also in economic la-la land . Most Americans today haven't even got sufficient money to live to 75 far less 90 or 95. As a recent article in MONEY magazine noted (November, p. 44):
"At just 2 percent inflation the gallon of milk that cost you $3.75 today will cost you $6.79 in 30 years."
If you think that's a lot, think of the cost of medical and dental care, rents, home prices, or buying a car. Or of anything - any kind of product. Where are all these guys going to get the money, especially as corporations today want no part of them?
Despite the dismal economics, all the guys over 70 on the survivor group were adamant that giving up PSA tests would be like "driving without a gas mileage indicator". Which, of course, is bull pockey. One character nicknamed "Cycling guy" actually bragged at having four focal cryotherapies, e.g. with estimated cost at $55,000 each mostly paid by Medicare.
For which the risk of fistula, hemorrhage etc. increases each time. Then, when those treatments didn't work he bragged about getting an orchiectomy (removal of the testicles) He swore he prevented turning into a freak (with gynecomastia) or eunuch by getting testosterone shots later and claimed his significant other regards him like John Holmes reincarnated. He then had the temerity to post: "Gee, guess I'm one of the lucky ones!" But not so fast there, Bud.
In the end, irrespective of how resolute he is in fighting this cancer, Cycling guy will lose - that is, once the macrophage "death cheer" creeps in - and it will. By that time, it is likely he (or rather the gov't) will have spent some half a million bucks - including for hospice care- to grab maybe 3 extra years of life. Is this foolishness?
Yeah, I think so, but that's me. I am still wrestling with what choices I may have to make in the coming year - and also whether living an extra year or two is worth it - as a mental vegetable with huge "man boobs", 5x higher cardiac risk, diabetes and shrunken genitals ("they are reduced to prepubescent stage" according to one researcher).
In the end, what's missing in the conversation for all these screening tests - including the predictable docs' demands for expensive follow up treatments- is how to deal with death in American culture. That is, re-educating citizens not to continually run away from it or obsess over absurd longevity ideations. This take was validated most recently in the same MONEY magazine issue, (pp. 41-50) , showing a 100-year old geezer (Orville Rogers) who runs every day and lives the "life of Riley" at a retirement center, e.g.
Folks, do not be deceived by such fanciful longevity B.S. This guy is the exception and not the rule, especially as he "retired at age 60" according to the piece. Which then went on to admit retirement planners are losing sleep over the amount ($195k) most 65 year olds currently have socked away.
Most important, since nature often operates randomly and isn't guided by individual choices, we need to act in concert to equalize health outcomes for all citizens. Alas, that may mean - to enable younger people to get the care they need- we oldsters let go of the fantasy of trying to live to 95 or 100. Besides, just because 5 or 6 percent can do it - like good ol' Orville- doesn't make it a valid aspiration for us all.
Contemporary society, as Ehrenreich writes, is "so deeply invested in the idea of an individual conscious self that it becomes both logically and emotionally impossible to think of a world without it." In Ehrenreich's view there is one time-honored balm for the anxiety of approaching self-dissolution. And it isn't more chemo, more lab tests more cryotherapy or getting your balls cut off to fight prostate cancer at age 79. No, it is "submergence of oneself into something larger than oneself".
For most Americans, like the guys in the prostate cancer forum, a truly alien concept.