During the January Well Adult Visit, my female physician sheepishly suggested I have a Prostate Exam because I was experiencing some minor burning urination and tender testicles. Group Health had already ruled out general infection and a host of other issues, and it had been more than two years since my last prostate exam. She started with a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) and said to her everything felt good. Of course for me nothing felt good during the DRE.
A Digital Rectal Exam is where the physician inserts their gloved finger into your rear end so they can feel the Prostate. They are checking for any hard, lumpy, or generally abnormal areas on or in the Prostate. Though this is an uncomfortable experience for so many reasons, it’s over quickly. Tenderness of the Prostate during the exam may also provide the physician a further clue as to Prostate health. Should the physician feel any lumps or bumps that don’t belong it means they will want to take a more in depth look at the Prostate for possible Cancer.
Though my Prostate felt fine to her, she suggested I have a PSA test just to be sure. It sounded like a good idea. I did have some unresolved medical complaints, and at 61 years the risk of Prostate Cancer rises very quickly. Prostate Cancer is the second leading Cancer killer of men. In fact most men over 80 years have Prostate Cancer in one form or another. The blood draw was done at Group Health that day with the PSA test result coming only a few days later. My test result score was 5.5, above the previous score of 3.6 from a test in 2009. Not Good! The ‘norm’ for a PSA test at Group Health is currently 0-4. Based on my test result, my physician recommended I see a Group Health urinary specialist for a consult. Much later I found out that many other conditions, such as an enlarged or inflamed prostate, or even making love within a week before the test, can greatly increase the PSA score; and there are many who believe the normal PSA score range should be lowered to 0-2.6. (More on this to follow)
This is the first point where I began to vary from standard medical procedures. Last time I saw a ‘specialist’ at Group Health I ended up paying over $500.00 for a ten-minute office visit with no result. There is just something wrong with that. To top it off the specialist said I was in great shape and they couldn’t do anything for me. Needless to say I didn’t want to see an overpriced underperforming specialist without first looking into the whole PSA issue. (More on this to follow) I had also heard horror stories about Prostate Cancer Biopsies. Complications including bleeding, infections, erectile dysfunction, and evendeath from this procedure appeared to be on the rise. The more I looked into the world of Prostate Cancer the more I heard about unnecessary Biopsies and conflicting information regarding PSA scores.
Apparently PSA tests are rife with inaccurate results when it comes to predicting Cancer. Over 50% of men who had a high PSA reading turned out not to have Prostate Cancer and correspondingly over 50% of men who were diagnosed with Prostate Cancer had a low PSA reading. Of course that still left those the PSA test predicted accurately. So like a good problem solver seeking solutions, I started searching for answers and alternatives. Then too there is the ‘Velocity’ of PSA scores to consider. (More on this to follow) My next step was a visit to a Dr. Eric Yarnell, ND, who offers a naturopathic practice in the Pacific Northwest, and is currently a staff physician at the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Center working with urinary issues, prostate, bladder, and kidney cancers.