A Prostate Cancer Survivor Making A Difference
- TODAY anchor Al Roker, 67, is a staple of American television. But he’s also a prostate cancer survivor and advocate for children with cancer.
- Roker announced he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March 2020. Since undergoing treatment, he’s been given consistent ‘all-clears,’ but he’ll be doing lifelong testing to make sure the cancer does not return.
- Prostate cancer, the most common form of cancer in men, can sometimes be misdiagnosed based on results from a PSA test. Still, our experts maintain that the PSA tests are helpful, and you should talk with your doctor about your own risks for the cancer and screening options.
Roker, 67, knows what it’s like to face a battle with cancer. And he’s doing his best to advocate for others who’re fighting the disease today – including children.Read More
And most recently, the celebrated TV journalist spoke about the recent Big Slick fundraiser which brings together celebrities from all over to help raise money for cancer research at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
In a recent interview with NBC affiliate, KSHB 41, she explained how special the multi-day even was even though he couldn’t attend this year.
“I’ve been part of this now for several years — and pandemic not included — but what I love about this is that it is unlike a lot of other charities. It is strictly about these children,” Roker said. “But unlike any other charity event, it is celebrating them. It was just this unbelievable party that lasts over several days.”
Al Roker’s Prostate Cancer Battle
And we can’t forget about all the education and awareness Roker has brought to prostate cancer after his own harrowing experience with the disease.
After almost delaying a doctor’s appointment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roker was diagnosed with an aggressive type of prostate cancer. He shared the news of his diagnosis on the TODAY show in March 2020 and explained that he would be having surgery.
“My first reaction was, ‘I just want this out. I don’t want to do radiation,’” Roker previously told SurvivorNet 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.”
RELATED: ‘I Just Want This Out’: TODAY Anchor & Prostate Cancer Survivor Al Roker, 67, Tells SurvivorNet About His Decision to Have Surgery, the Risk for Black Men & that His Sexual Function After Cancer is ‘Working Fine’
His procedure took place in November 2020 and resulted in the removal of his prostate and some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. This type of surgery – a radical prostatectomy – is known to effect a man’s sexual function since it requires removing the seminal vesicles.
“There really was no pain,” Roker said on how he felt post-operation. “The biggest issue, obviously, is sexual function, and there’s treatment for that. I’m happy to say everything’s working fine.”
The biggest issue for Roker actually came during 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 said. “The hardest part was that initial week after surgery where you’re wearing a catheter (a soft tube that drains urine from the bladder). But even that was not onerous, it’s just a little inconvenient, but you know that it’s temporary.”
Since then, Roker has been given consistent ‘all-clears,’ though he’ll be doing lifelong testing to make sure the cancer does not return.
The cancer surgery comes 19 years after Roker, who had long struggled with his weight, opted to have gastric bypass surgery to drastically limit his food consumption. He lost 100 pounds.
Understanding Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men – except for skin cancers. About one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The disease begins in the walnut-shaped prostate gland located between the rectum and bladder. This gland produces the fluid that nourishes sperm.
Symptoms of the disease are inconsistent and hard to pinpoint.
“Prostate cancer is a very odd disease in that it doesn’t have a particular symptom,” Dr. Edwin Posadas, director of translational oncology and the medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai, explained.
But changes in urinary function like urinating more or less often or waking up at night to go more than usual could be a sign of the disease. However, it’s important to note that these potential symptoms could also could be caused by a urinary tract infection or even an enlargement of the prostate gland (which is not cancer).
Doctors that have spoken with SurvivorNet shared a hopeful outlook when considering a prostate cancer diagnosis because there are many treatment options, and there’s been significant treatment progress over the past decade. Surgical and radiation options, for example, have made improvements in reducing side effects of treatment while still providing excellent cure rates. Even for men with an advanced-stage diagnosis, many new options exist to treat prostate cancer and help them maintain an excellent quality of life.
Prostate Cancer Screening
In the United States, many prostate cancer cases are caught with screening examinations. Screening guidelines depend on your risk for the disease. Age, race/ethnicity, geography, family history and gene changes are the main risk factors for prostate cancer. You should talk with your doctor regardless, but here are some things to consider when gauging your risk for the disease:
- Men younger than 40 are less likely to get prostate cancer, but age-related risk quickly rises after age 50. Approximately six of ten cases of prostate cancer are found in men older than 65.
- Prostate cancer develops more often in African-American men and in Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races, and these men tend to develop the disease at a younger age.
- Prostate cancer is most common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia and on Caribbean islands. It is less common in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. The reasons for this risk factor are unclear, but more intensive screening and lifestyle differences like diet might be contributing factors.
- Most prostate cancers occur in men without a family history of the disease, but it’s still important to look at your family history because prostate cancer does seem to run in some families. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer, for instance, more than doubles a man’s risk of developing the disease with a higher risk for men with a brother with prostate cancer than those with a father who have it. The risk is also especially high if a man has several affected relatives that developed the cancer at a younger age.
- Inherited gene changes, or mutations, like that of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can also elevate risk, but this probably accounts for a small percentage of overall cases.
It’s not clear if the benefits of prostate cancer screening outweigh the risks for most men. Nevertheless, screening can be life-saving, and it’s important to at least discuss the pros and cons of screening and your risk factors for the disease with your doctor.
Prostate cancer screening methods look for possible signs of the disease, but they can’t determine for sure if you have cancer. The only way to know for sure if the patient has prostate cancer is with a prostate biopsy – a procedure in which small samples of the prostate are removed and examined under a microscope. But generally speaking, screening for prostate cancer involves a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and a digital rectal exam to feel the prostate gland.
“It’s slightly uncomfortable but painless, and takes less than 30 seconds,” Dr. Posadas said of these methods. “The amount of information that is gained from that is tremendous, and it can be a life-and-death type decision that is made.”
But it’s important to note that the PSA test is not perfect. The prostate-specific antigen is a protein secreted by the prostate gland. Men have a small amount of PSA in their blood all the time, but large amounts can be a sign of cancer because when cancer cells grow, PSA spills into the blood.
An elevated PSA test, however, does not always mean you have prostate cancer. It can simply reflect that your prostate is enlarged – which is common – or it could signal an infection or inflammation. Because of this, the PSA test is controversial since high levels may lead to over-treatment in men who are more likely to die from something else. Regardless, our experts maintain that the PSA tests are helpful, and you should talk with your doctor about your own risks for the cancer and screening options.