Former Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, recently announced he had undergone prostate surgery last summer for a slow-growing tumor he was diagnosed with earlier in the year. By disclosing his past health history this is a probable sign he is planning on running for the U.S. Senate seat in Utah soon to be vacated by Orrin Hatch.
The successful surgery was performed by Dr. Thomas Ahlering at UC Irvine Hospital in California. His prognosis is said to be good as he joined 161,360 other men who were also diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. For 2018, the American Cancer Society is estimating about 164,690 new cases of prostate cancer will be confirmed.
Prostate cancer develops mainly in older men. About 6 cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis for most men is about 66 – Romney turned 70 in March of 2017.
Romney is not the first politician to have been treated successfully with surgery for prostate cancer. Back in 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell underwent surgery to remove his prostate gland at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While running for President of the United States in 2002, John Kerry received the news he had prostate cancer and was also treated with surgery and has had no recurrence since.
If a man receives a diagnosis of prostate cancer, one of the decisions he may have to make is whether to choose surgery or radiation for treatment. As a urologist/oncologist, I will always thoroughly discuss the pros and cons with my patients of decisions of this magnitude so they understand what they are facing.
After staging the cancer is completed and if the prostate cancer is considered localized within the prostate or has not spread beyond the gland, I highly recommend surgery versus radiation. Several studies have shown that prostate cancer in patients who have the disease contained to the prostate gland do better with surgery versus radiation treatment.
I have several reasons why I recommend surgery over radiation. One is patients treated with radiation are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer and one- and-a-half times more likely to die sooner than men with had prostate cancer treated with surgery.
Another reason is men who have radiation may be exposing themselves to developing a secondary cancer, such as bladder or rectal cancer due to possible side effects radiation can deliver to that area of the body. If a man chooses radiation over surgery and the cancer comes back, it is extremely difficult to perform surgery after radiation.
I also tell men that if their cancer is localized and have their prostate removed with surgery, they will have an almost 100% survival rate. However, if he chooses radiation over surgery first and then finds out the cancer has spread outside of the prostate gland, the chances of a man living longer than five years is less than 30%.
All men diagnosed with prostate cancer should also always inquire about his surgeons experience and number of successful surgeries he has performed, in regards to rate of cancer return, urinary continence, and sexual function after the removal of the prostate.
Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, and John Kerry each chose surgery and thankfully each has done well in surviving their past diagnoses of prostate cancer. We wish them each continued good health and a long life ahead. For all men diagnosed with this disease, finding a qualified, experienced urologist/oncologist to guide them on this journey helping them make educated, informed decisions will be their best medicine in beating back prostate cancer.