February 16, 2008

Playing the odds:prostate cancer

This year in the U.S., more than 230,000 men will learn they have prostate cancer. Doctors disagree about how to treat them. Here's what five men chose to do.

By Anthony Effinger Bloomberg Markets September 2006

One day in Chicago, Dave Bigg is aboutto drink a few beers with his buddies and divvy up Cubs baseball tickets when his cell phone rings. It's the doctor, and he doesn't like what he sees. Bigg's biopsy looks bad. The cells from his prostate are warped and buckled. It's cancer.

Bigg can't believe what he's hearing. He's 46 years old. He doesn't look sick. He doesn't feel sick. Hell, he feels great -- he's training for a triathlon. ``It was like a punch in the stomach,'' Bigg recalls.

Bigg phones his wife, Melissa. She's about to have lunch with friends at the Cherry Pit Café, near their home in Deerfield, Illinois. She sits in her car and screams. Cancer? How can my husband have cancer?

``You can't wrap your mind around it,'' she says. ``You look at this healthy, energetic guy, and you can't believe it.''

This year, more than 230,000 men in the U.S. will get bad news like Bigg's, according to the American Cancer Society. And, like him, these men will face difficult choices about what to do next. Out of the blue, a diagnosis of prostate cancer will throw them into the middle of a raging medical debate over how to treat this disease -- or whether to treat it at all.

For some, the decisions they make will determine whether they live or die. For others, their choices will mean the difference between an active sex life and impotence.

One man in six in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, the ACS says. After age 40, the danger grows with each passing year. If you live long enough, the question becomes when, not if, you're likely to get this cancer. Autopsies show that 30 percent of U.S. men over 50 have at least some malignant cells in the gland. For men older than 80, that figure climbs to 80 percent, according to the ACS.

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