Blood test proves to be life saver

Prostate cancer was not a foreign subject to the Aldrich family.

“My father, Leonard, was diagnosed with the disease nearly 20 years ago” said Brian Aldrich of Sheridan. “From that experience, I knew that nearly one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. It also runs in families and since my dad had the disease, I knew that my odds were doubled.”

That didn’t prevent Brian Aldrich from thinking this was someone else’s problem. However, it became his problem last year when a biopsy confirmed cancer.

The next couple weeks were spent researching the disease, trying to find out as much as he possibly could.

“There is a lot of helpful information on the internet. But I was reassured every time I thought of my dad and how he survived this cancer.”

The Aldrich family was shocked when the cancer was first diagnosed in the elder Aldrich. There wasn’t as much information as there is today so they normally thought the worst. “Dad never complained about any of the treatments” Brian said. “I remember when dad left the hospital after a radical prostatectomy. It was a Thursday and he made mom take him to a Rotary meeting on the way home.”

Since he never complained or made a big deal of his situation, the whole family never worried.

They may not have worried, but they should have been concerned. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 250,000 men will be newly diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. More than 28,000 men will die of prostate cancer this year alone. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind only lung cancer. As serious as these statistics are, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. In fact, more than 2.5 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

The key to the high survival rate is a simple blood test taken early that detects changes in the prostate. The PSA test may not be the most reliable diagnostic test, but it is simple and along with other indicators, is cause for further tests.

The PSA test was the first indication that anything was awry with both generations of Aldriches. Leonard signed up for the test at the annual Rotary Blood screening. The Dunkirk and Fredonia Rotary clubs run the annual blood screening to provide a service to the community. It is a chance for the public to get blood work done each year that they may not have the incentive to do otherwise.

The Rotary blood screening performs more than 40 clinical tests including the PSA for men. Results are sent to the primary physician to be interpreted with further tests performed if necessary. With a family history, the elevated PSA was enough to concern Brian’s doctor. A biopsy was scheduled shortly thereafter.

Prostate cancer is a slow growing cancer and with some older men, doctors take a wait and see approach to treatment called active surveillance. If the growth remains slow, doctors feel that the patient will likely die from something else.

“I am only 52 years old and have four daughters who I want to see graduate and walk down the aisle with when they get married.”

Active surveillance was never an option and Aldrich needed to be proactive in his treatment. Early detection was crucial in being able to pick the least objectionable treatment with the greatest success rate. It really came down to analyzing the side effects when a treatment of daily radiation treatments for nine weeks was chosen. “My Gleason Score was 6, meaning we had caught this early with the PSA test.” Otherwise, treatments include removing the prostate or the implanting of radioactive seeds into the prostate to kill the cancer cells.

“The hardest part of this whole situation was telling my daughters that I had cancer,” said Aldrich, Dunkirk Rotary president. “We started out by telling them that this story has a happy ending.”

Brian and his wife, Ann, went on to explain everything, but emphasized that this had been detected early and treatments are very effective at this stage. Afterwards, they piled in the car and went for ice cream. It was a way of telling them that everything is going to be OK.

This year, the Dunkirk Rotary Club will hold its annual blood screening event Saturday at the Dunkirk High School. The event is from 6:30 to 9:20 a.m. Walk-ins are welcome but participants are encouraged to pre-register at 363-3917.