Understanding the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
- “Love Story” actor Ryan O’Neal, 82, battled two types of cancer during his remarkable career. While contemplating treatment options for stage 2 prostate cancer, the veteran actor chose cryotherapy treatment because he hoped to experience fewer treatment side effects.
- Cryotherapy, which freezes cancer cells and is most often used for early prostate cancer. This form of treatment is an option for early-stage prostate cancer and still has some side effects. According to the National Cancer Institute, these side effects may include problems with urine flow, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and damage to the rectum.
- Early detection of prostate is important as it can help reduce the risk of cancer spreading to other organs. Screening for prostate cancer generally involves a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and a digital rectal exam to feel the prostate gland. The prostate-specific antigen is a protein secreted by the prostate gland, large amounts of which can indicate prostate cancer.
- O’Neal was also diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), which is a type of cancer of the white blood cells. After treatment, he reached remission.
Actor Ryan O’Neal, 82, known for the 1970s hit “Love Story” among many other films, battled two types of cancer amid his remarkable career. While battling stage 2 prostate cancer roughly a decade ago, his treatment involved Cryotherapy, which freezes cancer cells and is most often used for early prostate cancer. He said he chose this particular treatment to minimize potential side effects. However, a urologist tells SurvivorNet that this treatment can still have lingering side effects that patients should consider while deciding on prostate cancer treatment.
For O’Neal, the ‘70s were fruitful for him as he churned out several memorable movies he starred in, including “Paper Moon.” However, many years later, he faced more unexpected challenges that tested him. His first bout with cancer came in 2001 when he was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).Read More
O’Neal’s spokeswoman did not say what kind of treatment he underwent, according to ABC News, but he reached remission for the disease.
WATCH: Diagnosing CML
Symptoms for CML are often vague, as many other ailments can cause them. However, common symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Bone pain
- An enlarged spleen (which may be felt as a mass under the left side of the ribcage)
- Pain or a sense of fullness in the stomach
- Feeling full after a small amount of food
Helping Patients Understand Prostate Cancer Treatment Options
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- Metastatic Prostate Cancer: How Molecular Testing Can Impact Your Treatment Plan
Roughly a decade after that cancer battle, the “What’s Up, Doc” actor was diagnosed with stage 2b prostate cancer.
“Although I was shocked and stunned by the news, I feel fortunate that it was detected early,” O’Neal said to People Magazine at the time.
Prostate cancer that is stage 2b means the cancer has not yet spread outside the prostate. Your doctor might feel it with a digital rectal exam (DRE) or see it with imaging. At this stage, the Gleason score is 7, and the PSA level is less than 20.
WATCH: Understanding your Gleason score amid prostate cancer.
Assessing Prostate Cancer Risk Level
When you do get screened for prostate cancer, your doctor will run a few tests.
One of the tests is the PSA test, a simple blood test that screens for prostate cancer. It looks for larger amounts of protein-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. An elevated PSA test does not always mean you have prostate cancer. It could also reflect that your prostate is enlarged, which is common, or it could signal an infection or inflammation.
Your doctor may also conduct a digital rectal exam (DRE) to check your prostate for lumps.
Depending on the results of these tests, imaging scans and a biopsy may be ordered.
After tests are conducted, your doctor analyzes the results to give you a Gleason Score. This score ranges from 6 to 10. The higher the score, the more aggressive the cancer.
This score, along with your other test results, helps doctors determine if your cancer is “low risk,” “intermediate risk,” or “high risk.”
After testing and your risk has been established, your doctor will discuss possible treatment options. Treatment ranges from “active surveillance,” usually for men with low-risk prostate cancer, which again involves regular testing every six months to monitor the prostate and check for any progression of the disease.
More aggressive treatment options include surgery and radiation therapy.
O’Neal’s Prostate Cancer Treatment and Possible Side Effects
O’Neal said in a forum hosted by the Prostate Cancer Research Institute that he chose to undergo cryotherapy. “I was particularly attracted to the cryotherapy option because of the reduced risk of side effects,” O’Neal said, adding that he hadn’t experienced any side effects at the time.
Cryotherapy is the freezing of cancer cells, and it’s most often used for early prostate cancer. This form of treatment is often thought to have fewer side effects. However, Dr. James Brooks, Chief of Urologic Oncology at Stanford Medicine, says this treatment still has side effects, such as dead tissue in the prostate.
“I’ve had men come in with severe infections of the dead tissue in their prostate that are absolutely miserable,” Dr. Brooks tells SurvivorNet.
“The side effects…they fit the same spectrum of what you see with surgery and radiation therapy. So, it’s sometimes sold as sort of a free ride so that you get fewer side effects from it [but] that’s not the case,” Dr. Brooks adds.
According to the National Cancer Institute, side effects of cryotherapy amid prostate cancer may include problems with urine flow, incontinence, erectile dysfunction, and damage to the rectum.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you have experienced symptoms associated with prostate cancer or have a screening coming up, here are some questions you may ask your doctor:
- If I have elevated PSA levels, what could be causing that besides cancer?
- How long will it take to learn if my PSA levels warrant further testing?
- What are the treatment options that are best suited for me based on my risk level?
- What financial resources exist to help me with the costs associated with treatment?
- How long will my potential treatment prevent me from working or continuing normal activities?