Pathology report gives prostate cancer survivor more treatment options
BY Mena El-Sharkawi
Even though several of Kelly Andersen’s relatives had faced prostate cancer , his own diagnosis in September 2013 came unexpectedly. He’d never experienced any symptoms. His doctor diagnosed the disease only after routine bloodwork done during his annual physical exam detected elevated PSA levels .
“I asked the doctor if it could just be a mistake, and he said he’d asked the lab to run it twice because my level was so high,” Kelly recalls.
Subsequent CT and MRI scans confirmed Kelly’s disease and showed that it’d spread to several lymph nodes around his body.
His oncologist in Oregon, where he lives, prescribed four rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. His PSA level dropped to below .05, but when it came time for surgery , the two surgeons with whom he’d previously met refused to operate on him. They told him that because he had small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma in addition to adenocarcinoma, his disease was too aggressive for surgery to matter.
“I came back home pretty discouraged,” Kelly recalls.
Getting a second opinion at MD Anderson
But he didn’t give up. After speaking with his family doctor and doing some research on the internet, Kelly sent MD Anderson his records.
“MD Anderson got back to me within just a few days,” Kelly says.
In January 2014, Kelly flew to Houston to see genitourinary oncologist Jennifer Wang, M.D., and surgeon Louis Pisters, M.D. Immediately, Wang ordered a new set of CT and MRI scans.
“One of the things I really appreciated with Dr. Wang and MD Anderson is that when I was in Oregon, I had to wait 8-10 days to get scan results. At MD Anderson, I’d get result scans the same day,” Kelly says.
Kelly’s scans showed the cancer hadn’t progressed to his bones or internal organs, and his tumors had actually shrunk since his diagnosis. But since he wouldn’t be eligible for surgery until he showed no signs of neuroendocrine carcinoma, Kelly underwent a tissue biopsy to determine if chemotherapy had successfully killed the aggressive cancer.
Pathology report provides hope
Wang and Pisters analyzed Kelly’s diagnostic results with other MD Anderson prostate cancer specialists, including the pathologist who drafted Kelly’s biopsy results.
That changed the course of Kelly’s treatment. “The pathologist said that the cancer cells found in the biopsy were actually dead, so she’d felt that I’d had a good response to chemotherapy. That meant they could do surgery.”
That March, Kelly underwent a laparoscopic surgery , where Pisters removed Kelly’s prostate, along with the tumors and several lymph nodes. When he returned for his follow-up visit the next month, he showed no evidence of disease. That’s remained the case now for more than four years, and he’s even been off of hormonal therapy for almost 2 years.
“I can’t express my gratitude for Dr. Wang,” Kelly says. “She was thorough and wanted to give me every chance.”
Life after prostate cancer surgery
To minimize his risk of a recurrence, Wang kept Kelly on hormone-related medications such as Casodex, Lupron and Zometa until March 2017. He’s thankful he didn’t experience side effects from any of them.
Today, 66-year-old Kelly feels better than ever. Since his surgery, he’s been on several hiking and mountain climbing excursions and has cycled hundreds of miles.
“I’m grateful for God, my doctors, my children and all the prayers that came my way,” he says.
He’s also grateful that he never gave up on himself.
“Get a second opinion or a third or fourth opinion,” he advises others who aren’t satisfied with their treatment options – or lack thereof. “It just amazes me the difference it can bring.”