A 65 year old healthy man, with no family history of prostate cancer, had a routine PSA of 4.7 ug/L. His digital rectal examination was normal. He became anxious and depressed. A transrectal ultrasound guided biopsy showed a single microfocus of prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia. He remains dispirited. A new disease entity was identified and termed “PSAdynia.”
In 1997, Dr. Laurence Klotz published an article about a new psychological epidemic. His work was early recognition that prostate cancer is not just a physical disease, but also a source of mental and emotional distress—enough to earn its own odd name of PSAdynia. Most healthy men age 55 or older are not concerned about prostate cancer (PCa) until something unusual brings it to their attention. Then, studies show that worry levels increase when a man goes for a PSA blood test, especially if he has a family history of prostate cancer, or at least one previous suspicious result. If this one proves unfavorable, the patient embarks on a journey with peaks of anxiety at certain points:
- Future PSA tests
- Going for a prostate biopsy
- Waiting for biopsy results
- Positive biopsy findings
- Making a treatment decision
- Going through treatment
- Post-treatment follow-up PSA tests
The PSA test launched a roller coaster of worry during the entire “clinical timeline of the disease.”
A patient’s level of anxiety can predict his treatment preference. A recent study of 1531 patients newly diagnosed with low risk PCa used a “Distress Thermometer” as a way to gauge each person’s anxiety level at the time of diagnosis and at the time of treatment decision. Those who were highly anxious at diagnosis were more likely to choose surgery over Active Surveillance (AS) even though they were qualified for AS. “Similarly, men who were more distressed around the time they made the treatment decision were likely to choose surgery over active surveillance, as well as surgery over radiation.”
Why would they choose a treatment with risks of urinary and sexual side effects? They were seeking the peace of mind they thought surgery would bring. They were willing to go to rather drastic lengths – major surgery – rather than put themselves through what has been called “surveillance fatigue.” They may have learned that 20-50% of patients who seem qualified for AS are found to have higher grade disease on the 1st or 2nd biopsy. This would naturally deter many from committing to AS.
Overcoming anxiety about prostate cancer
The biggest source of stress in facing screening, biopsy, and treatment outcome is fear of the unknown.
What will the blood test show? What will the biopsy reveal? How painful will treatment be? What if I come out of it with ED? How do I know they got it all? The energy that goes into trying to anticipate and prepare for unknown bad possibilities sets up a cycle of fear that can pop in and disrupt normal activity. It’s like becoming a little boy who fears there’s a monster lurking under the bed, waiting to pounce.
On the other hand, a clear perception of the situation catalyzes and empowers a patient to get a handle on the true situation, make rational action plans, and implement them with confidence. The Sperling Prostate Center offers multiparametric MRI of the prostate as the most efficient way to dispel fear and anxiety. When you with your own eyes what’s going on in your body, you demystify the unknown and transform it into a manageable, treatable clinical condition with maximum chance for success.
Multiparametric MRI offers mind-easing benefits. If a doctor recommends a biopsy based on suspicious PSA, first have an mpMRI scan done. Our powerful 3T magnet features all the imaging sequences needed to distinguish prostate cancer from benign conditions such as BPH or inflammation, without the use of an endorectal coil. If a biopsy is necessary, we reduce the fear by using real-time MRI to direct a minimum number of needles into the suspected tumor with pinpoint accuracy. In fact, such a targeted biopsy delivers the most accurate diagnosis by sampling areas most likely to harbor aggressive cells. Another advantage is the ability to prioritize and plan treatments based on the known size, shape, location and aggression of the tumor. Finally, our expert staff and 3T magnet offer MRI-guided Focal Laser Ablation (FLA) for which our Center is the recognized pioneer and authority.
As experts in FLA, we provide a reassuring middle ground between whole gland surgery and radiation – with their risks of side effects – and AS with its chance of psychological fatigue and possible tumor growth and/or progression. Our patients who learn they are candidates for FLA almost immediately begin to experience relief from distress. Some of them have said that undergoing FLA is not much different from an in-and-out dental procedure with Novocain. Some have said that if they hadn’t been awake during the procedure, they could not have believed that they actually went through a cancer-killing treatment as they walked out the door and headed for dinner.
If you are worried about being at risk for prostate cancer, contact our Center to learn how we can help put your mind at rest. We are here to help you overcome your prostate cancer anxiety.
Copyright by Dan Sperling MD. Reprint permission courtesy of Sperling Prostate Center (New York, Florida), the leading U.S. center for multiparametric detection, diagnosis and image-guided focal treatment of prostate cancer.
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.
Choyke P, Loeb S. Active surveillance. Oncology Journal 2017 Jan 15.
Dale W et al. The role of anxiety in prostate carcinoma. Cancer 2005 Aug 1; 104(3):467-78.
Leick E. “Patient Anxiety Influences Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions.” Cure 2017 Jan 14.