Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced Wednesday morning that he will begin undergoing treatment for prostate cancer within the next few weeks.
Wolf, joined by his wife, Frances, met with reporters to reveal his diagnosis, giving three reasons why he would do so.
“First, I wanted to make sure you were aware of this, in the interest of clarity and transparency,” Wolf says. “Second, what I am going through is treatable and actually will not interfere with my duties as Governor.”
“Third, I just want to make the point that I found this in a routine checkup,” says Wolf. “Because I had the routine checkup, it was detected early, and I can do something about it. I want to make sure this is an example of why routine checkups matter, and make a difference.”
Wolf initially was alerted to the possible diagnosis in early fall, he says, and received confirmation “I guess two weeks ago, to what the real nature of the problem is.”
Wolf, who says he feels “great,” says his treatment will be a minor procedure because of the early diagnosis, although he declined to discuss exactly what procedure he would have.
“I don’t have all the details, but it’s not emergency surgery, it’s not emergency treatment, so this will be something that takes place in the coming months,” the Governor says.
“Prostate cancer is something older men get,” Wolf says. “A lot of older men die with prostate cancer, but not a lot die of it. It has the unfortunate moniker ‘cancer,’ but it’s a disease that, if detected early, you can do something about.”
The prostate is a gland found only in men which produces seminal fluid. According to the American Cancer Society, some cancers which affect the gland can grow very quickly, but the majority grow slowly. Autopsy studies show that many older men, and some younger men, who die of other causes also had prostate cancer which showed no symptoms. One in seven men will be diagnosed with the disease during his lifetime, with six of ten being older than 65. Diagnosis is rare before the age of 40, and one of every 38 men diagnosed will die of the disease.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and the second most-common cause of cancer-related death, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. African-American men are 61 percent more likely to develop the cancer, and almost 2.5 times more likely to die from it.
The American Cancer Society recommends screening for the disease for men past the age of 45 for African-American men or for those for whom a family history of the disease exists among brothers or fathers. Annual screenings are recommended beginning at 50 with a blood test called Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA), which measures levels of antigens released by the prostate. A digital rectal examination by a physician is also recommended, but both the American Cancer Society and the PA Health Department call the decision to be tested a personal one which should be discussed between a patient and his doctor. Wolf says his diagnosis was made via a PSA test and a special biopsy.
Barring early detection via testing, symptoms of the disease include blood in the urine; pain or burning while urinating; frequent urination, particularly at night or conversely, the inability to urinate; a weak or interrupted urine flow; or constant pain in the lower back, pelvis or upper thighs.
Wolf says he has known people throughout his life who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and is familiar with the effects.
“We all know people who have gone through this,” Wolf says. “I’m convinced by people who have lived with this that I have gotten this very early on and that it is eminently treatable.”
Wolf has declined to discuss his chosen method of treatment except to emphasize that it will not include chemotherapy.
“It’s one of the normal types of treatment,” says Wolf, “but I think I will just leave it at that. I think it’s between me and my doctor, but it’s a mild, routine treatment, and the doctor is very sanguine, optimistic. It’s a quick ‘in-and-out,’ so I won’t be in the hospital for any period of time.”
Wolf says the long period of time between the initial suspicion of the disease and Wednesday’s announcement was not out of the ordinary.
“With this kind of disease, you take certain routine tests, and you get a number that says, ‘maybe you ought to check this out further.’ We did that in the fall,” Wolf says. “We did the checks, the biopsies, the echo — I don’t even know what you call the different x-rays and all that kind of thing — and all that takes us to confirm and actually understand better what the nature of the disease is. The first step was a very general, routine test.”
“The doctors are more than encouraging,” says Frances Wolf, the First Lady of the Commonwealth. “They know how to get their arms around it, they know what to do. We don’t need to be sad about this. There is every reason to expect this will be dealt with quite efficiently by the wonderful physicians. We are more than hopeful that he will beat it.”
“I want to make sure the public knows the importance of regular checkups to detect things like this, whoever you are and whatever the problem is,” the Governor says. “Regular checkups matter.”
For more information about prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, the Department of Health recommends the following resources:
|Department of Health Prostate Cancer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Cancer Society Prostate Cancer
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Prostate Cancer Screening: A Decision Guide”
Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network
By Nancy Hart