Like many men, Joe Blumberg, 71, didn’t know his “numbers” until after he got sick. Doctors told him his PSA was rising, but they also said to take a wait-and-see approach. By the time Joe’s prostate cancer was discovered, it had spread to other parts of his body.
This frustrating—and fateful—experience encouraged Joe to create an organization that would help prevent other men from having the same negative experience. The Atlanta-based Men’s Health and Wellness Center is a nonprofit organization that helps raise awareness about men’s health issues, including prostate cancer, cardiac disease, and diabetes.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, and the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death. It is estimated that one in every six men will be diagnosed with the disease during his lifetime. In the U.S., more than 90% of prostate cancers are found in local or regional stages. At these early stages, the five-year survival rate nears 100%. When the cancer has metastasized, however, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 30%.
Typical approaches to treatment include some combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy. As of 2010, patients also have access to an FDA-approved immunotherapy called Provenge® (sipuleucel-T). Provenge is a dendritic cell-based therapeutic cancer vaccine designed to enlist the immune system in the fight against prostate cancer.
Joe is an enthusiastic proponent of immunotherapy as a treatment approach. Along with support from his wife, Cathleen, he credits immunotherapy with helping him feel strong and asymptomatic during his illness. TheAnswertoCancer (TheA2C) spoke with Joe about prostate cancer as a men’s issue, and what attracted him to immunotherapy.
The Men's Health and Wellness Center came into being right around the same time that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, back in 2006. The whole idea behind it was to make sure that men—especially men over 40—and their loved ones have greater awareness and sensitivity to men's health issues. Because typically, men are very naïve with respect to their own health. Men are never taught to engage the health care system. They really have no idea of what the various tests and screenings they may receive are designed to measure. And, consequently, they can wind up suffering serious illnesses or disease, just because of the fact that they were unaware.
There are situations where the first time a man hears the word “prostate” is after he has stumbled into a doctor's office somehow and has complained about the fact that he has to get up too many times during the night to go to the bathroom, or that he's feeling some abdominal pain, or he’s got blood in his urine. And the doctor says, “Well, you have an enlarged prostate.” And they look at him and say, “Well, what's that? Where is that? How come I've got one? My wife doesn't have one.” It's a sad state of affairs, but honest to God that's the way it works.
TheA2C: Did you get the idea for the organization because of your own experience?
Joe: Even though I got physicals every year, I was very naïve because I didn't ask my doctor what my PSA was. Even though my doctor said, “Well, your PSA's up a little bit, and we'll track it,” I didn't ask about the numbers. Consequently, I was late to the game getting a biopsy, and it turned out I have an aggressive form of prostate cancer. So I basically wanted to make sure that other men didn't suffer the same experience that I did, just because of lack of information.
We’ve been told we’re doing God's work. Because, in a lot of cases, the guys are scared, and they don't know what it means when they have failed some initial form of treatment. We can help them to understand what that is all about in a practical way so that they can implement it in their lives. If all they're left with is to go to the Internet, it's overwhelming. Going to the Internet and typing in “advanced prostate cancer” is like drinking from a fire hose. The ability to lift the veil, so to speak, on what prostate cancer is, and how prostate cancer manifests itself, grows, and how it can be treated, is unbelievably beneficial to these men and their families.