For most of my life, I had never been to hospital - at least as a patient.
I am not overweight, my blood pressure is normal, I don't smoke, and I am not a diabetic. Bad habits? I drink too much occasionally and have spent too much time in the sun.
Kenneth Clarke, 76, and a former health secretary, told me recently that beyond a certain age you can be as fit as you like, but things inevitably start to go wrong on the health front.
Following a health scare with a detaching retina, I decided to have a 'well man' check and the blood test revealed that I had a PSA level of 16. Now, PSA (prostate specific antigen, measured in nanograms per millilitre of blood) can give both false negatives and false positives. Normal levels of PSA in the blood are between 0-2.5 ng/ml. Higher than normal levels, greater than 2.5, can be caused by cancer or by benign, non-cancerous conditions such as an enlarged prostate, prostate inflammation, infection, or trauma. But all elevated readings of PSA should be investigated.
My GP in Lichfield referred me to a clinic at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. A digital rectal exam involving the doctor's finger revealed no abnormality: no hardness on the surface of the prostate and no lumps. And an ultra sound scan also revealed no enlargement. So I was given an MRI scan. That too revealed nothing.
I was also symptom free. No problem going to the loo and I had a normal urine flow.
So the urology consultant suggested active surveillance. Every three months I gave a blood sample to be tested for PSA levels and they remained stubbornly at 16.
The moral of this story so far is that everything might seem alright, but, as the old song goes, that ain't necessarily so.
I had been avoiding having a biopsy taken. This involves a device being inserted up your rectum and core samples being taken from the prostate, but I eventually agreed. It wasn't painful - they give you a local anaesthetic first - but it is uncomfortable. This revealed that there were changes going on in my prostate. The degree of change is measured on the Gleason scale between three and six. I was Gleason 3 which some specialists in the US refer to as 'pre-cancer'. But left unchecked, it will develop into a full-blown cancer.
After a few more months, my consultant got tough with me: "Look. How long do you want to live?" he asked. He went on to explain that as, in all other respects, I am healthy, I am more likely to die of prostate cancer than with prostate cancer. So I need treatment even at this early stage of its development to ensure it couldn't spread.
Following some advice, I opted to change consultants to Alan Doherty also at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QE). He recommended open surgery. The alternatives are keyhole (or laparoscopic) surgery or radiation and hormone treatment. He advised against radiation as the 'pre-cancer' can't be targeted effectively and he maintains that open surgery has fewer side effects. In particular, his view is that the two bundles of nerves that control erections can be spared from damage more effectively with full, open surgery. The disadvantage is a slightly longer stay in hospital.
So, on 15 June I was admitted in to QE, was operated on that morning, and woke up that afternoon sans prostate.
I had a neat scar running down from my navel and monitoring wires attached. There was also a catheter inserted up my penis draining urine from my bladder.
I remained in hospital for five nights and then returned home to convalesce. Ten or so days later I returned to the hospital to have my catheter removed and five weeks on from the operation I trekked 12 miles on holiday on the first day with a friend in Newfoundland. Four months later, and with the advice of superb specialist nurses, I more or less have full bladder control back.
Most importantly, my most recent visit to the hospital revealed a PSA of less than 0.1; that is undetectable so my consultant says I'm most probably "cured". I next have to see him 12 months on from my operation.
Years ago, we used to say "Most people die with prostate cancer, not of prostate cancer". But with longer life expectancy, that is no longer the case.
So here's the thing: it is no use men being shy about their bits and pieces. That can lead to death.
Get a well man check with your local GP and if you are one of the 36,000 Brits diagnosed each year with actual or potential prostate cancer, get it sorted.
And as with so many cancers nowadays, if it's detected early enough, you can be cured and go on to lead a normal and active life.
Michael Fabricant is the Conservative MP for Lichfield
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