Al Roker Discusses His Prostate Cancer Journey
- TODAY anchor and prostate cancer survivor Al Roker tells SurvivorNet about his decision to get surgery, saying “I just want this out,” when talking about his cancer.
- The television host also bravely adds that “everything is working fine” in the sexual function department after battling cancer. But it’s a common side effect men experience when dealing with this type of cancer.
- Roker has also made a point to inform people, especially those within the Black community, of the importance of screenings and vigilance when it comes to your health.
“My first reaction was, ‘I just want this out. I don’t want to do radiation,’” Roker says of the prostate cancer that was growing inside his body. “At the end of the day, I thought, ‘surgery first,’ then I thought, ‘no, maybe radiation,’ then I went back and (said), ‘no, surgery.’ That was that. Once I make a decision, I don’t really second guess it.”Read More
Roker further tells us how he’s making it his mission to help educate others about prostate cancer.
“My message is to try to find the advocate you need, the help you need,” Al Roker tells SurvivorNet. “Don’t take no for an answer, and know that there are people who want to help. There are organizations that are willing to help, but don’t give up.”
Detecting Al Roker’s Cancer
Last year, Roker was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer — the most common cancer in men. It starts in the walnut-shaped prostate gland, which is located between the rectum and bladder and produces the fluid that nourishes sperm.
In the United States, most prostate cancer is found with screening examinations, such as a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. Al Roker discovered his cancer by way of a PSA test, which looks for prostate specific antigens in the blood. He’s repeatedly advocated for more men to get this test, however, it’s controversial among some doctors.
PSA is a protein secreted by the prostate gland; a large amount of PSA in a person’s body can indicate that cancer cells are growing. But that isn’t always the case.
“The problem with PSA testing is that it’s not totally specific for prostate cancer,” Dr. James Brooks, a urologic oncologist at Stanford Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet. “It can also reflect enlargement of the prostate, which most men get at some point in their lifetime.” Elevated PSA can also be a product of infection or inflammation, he says.
Surgery to Remove the Prostate; How Sexual Function Can Change
In November 2020, Roker had surgery to remove his prostate and some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. This type of surgery is called a radical prostatectomy, and it’s known to effect a man’s sexual function as the surgery requires removing the seminal vesicles.
“There really was no pain,” Al Roker says about how he felt after the surgery. “The biggest issue, obviously, is sexual function, and there’s treatment for that. I’m happy to say everything’s working fine.”
Sometimes during surgery, the nerves that facilitate an erection are removed or damaged. “There are neurovascular bundles on the back of the prostate, and they are responsible for erection,” Dr. Ethan Halpern, co-director of the Prostate Diagnostic Center at Jefferson University Hospitals and researcher at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia, tells SurvivorNet. If those bundles are destroyed in the ablation (surgery) process, impotence will occur.
For Roker, the most difficult part was surgical recovery.
“To be honest, the hardest part really — there’s a little incontinence (loss of bladder control) to begin with that eventually goes away to me,” he adds. “The hardest part was that initial week after surgery where you’re wearing a catheter. But even that was not onerous, it’s just a little inconvenient, but you know that it’s temporary.” (A catheter is a soft tube that drains urine from the bladder.)
In addition to sexual function changes, prostate cancer surgery can also affect a man’s bladder, like in Al Roker’s case.
The side effects of prostate cancer surgery can be daunting, so how do you know if surgery is right for you?
The answer, according to SurvivorNet experts, will likely differ depending on which doctor or hospital you choose. The challenge for your oncology team is whether to treat and if so, how, or just watch and wait.
Some cancers are so small that they don’t show any potential of spreading. In those cases, active surveillance may be the choice. (Active surveillance is a watch-and-wait approach for men who have low-risk prostate cancer.) Cancers that are high-risk with the potential for spreading should be treated, most likely by removing the prostate gland (surgery) or by radiation therapy.
Roker has been given consistent “all-clears” since treatment, but he’ll be doing lifelong testing to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
Prostate Cancer & Black Men
Al Roker has made a point to inform people, especially those within the Black community, of the importance of screenings and vigilance when it comes to your health. On the TODAY show, he has shared some staggering statistics saying that 1 in 7 Black men and 1 in 9 men overall will be diagnosed in their lifetime with prostate cancer.
“I think Black men are more likely to develop (prostate cancer), and it is what it is,” he tells SurvivorNet. “(There’s) really not much you can really do about that. Just know that you just got to deal with it.”
Dr. Edwin Posadas, director of the Translational Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says the incidence of prostate cancer in Black men is 60% higher, “and they are two to three times more likely to die from the disease.”
Therefore, to Roker’s point, it’s important to know your risk level and prioritize screening. Prostate cancer is typically slow-growing, so it’s easily treated if caught early with screening, which experts recommend doing at the age 40 or 45 years old, depending on your family history.
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff