Chemotherapy is hard, but it’s easier if you make it fun. That was my implicit message when I walked around the infusion room at OHSU in a rock-n-roll get up distributing chocolates to my new friends tethered to their IV poles.
Some patients were bewildered. One guy asked “Do you work here? Are you the entertainment?” I smiled pointing to the IV in my arm and said “No, I’m just like you.”
But I wish I wasn’t.
My name is Bryce Olson and I joined the ranks of 233,000 other men in this country to be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. Though I won’t die in 2014 like nearly 30,000 other American men will, I drew bad cards. My cancer was large and aggressive; it spread from the prostate gland to my bones making me metastatic. Stage IV. But I’m also optimistic that the brilliant minds at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute are going to be change agents for a couple of things that just feel broken today.
Today’s options for early detection feel broken.
The PSA blood test is what is used today to screen for prostate cancer. False positives can occur from non-cancerous causes like an enlarged benign prostate or prostatitis. This leads to panicked men seeking out the definitive yet invasive needle biopsy tests that are often not necessary. There’s also a concern that if the biopsy does detect prostate cancer, it may be a slow growing cancer that wouldn’t have ever caused a problem (overdiagnosis) driving men towards treatments and side effects that could have been avoided (overtreatment.) In addition, most cancer subspecialty organizations do not recommend this test until the age of fifty.
So what’s a younger man with no family history to do? Wait to become symptomatic and then go see the doc? A symptomatic man will not be associated with early stage prostate cancer, and early stage is the only stage associated with good prognosis.
Because of this, a young man like me doesn’t have a reliable screening option. Early detection might have helped me — but the tools must improve to where this isn’t even a debate anymore. We need new ways to detect cancer early, when treatment is more effective.
Something else feels broken. Treatments for metastatic prostate cancer are not curative. The hormone therapies, chemotherapies and burgeoning immunotherapies can give a guy like me several more years, but I’m not expected to see my 6-year-old daughter graduate from high school.
Movember comes and goes; viral ice bucket challenges fade from memory. Nearly 2.8 million American men are still living with this disease. OHSU needs to take this cancer down! Old early detection tools need to be put out to pasture. We need to find novel treatments that cure advanced metastatic disease. I believe OHSU will usher in a new era of early detection, available for all men, where molecular markers are researched, identified and used to predict and detect cancer before it develops.
I also believe that this research will help make personalized medicine a reality for all patients. I look forward to the day when there are targeted therapies that attack the genetic abnormalities in prostate cancer and stop the tumor in its tracks — just like Gleevec® has done for chronic myeloid leukemia.
I’m proud to work for Intel, a company that is working with OHSU to utilize next generation computational technologies to dramatically increase the speed and lower the costs associated with genetic profiling of tumors. This work will ultimately enable scientists to find patterns in how cancers like prostate cancer progress and then relate that information to how a patient’s unique tumor would respond to novel targeted treatments.
Special thanks to Bryce for sharing his story for this guest blog post. Follow him on Twitter at @bryceolson.
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