The 50-year-old actor was diagnosed with the cancer two years ago — and opted to have his prostate removed, despite other treatment options. He said he is now cancer-free.
“I was really fortunate,” he said. “My course of treatment was basically an operation and that was it. Anyone who has had cancer, you know you have to keep on checking on it, but I’m really fortune.”
He said learning he had cancer was a “surreal” moment — especially because he had no family history of prostate cancer, and no symptoms.
His primary care physician had been administering a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, for a few months. The early detection blood test measures the level of protein produced by cells of the prostate gland — and allowed Stiller to learn of the cancer early on.
“He brought up the test to me and said, ‘I want to give you this test,’ and explained what it was,” Stiller said. “And when the first one came in, it was a little high. And he said, ‘I just want to keep giving you this test every, four, five, six months to see what happens.’ ”
According to the American Cancer Society, one in seven men will get prostate cancer. Stiller’s surgeon, Dr. Edward Schaeffer of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, explained: “Prostate cancer is a common cancer, but not everybody will die from it. So we have to really better identify those who have a lethal or aggressive cancer from those who do not.”
The PSA test doesn’t come without its controversy. According to Schaeffer, “Some would argue that if the test is elevated, it may lead to unnecessary biopsies or additional tests which may cause anxieties for the patient.”
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Stiller said he chose the surgical removal of his prostate despite other treatment options because “that’s what my doctors recommended.”
“I am not a doctor,” Stiller said. “And for me, it was learning what the options were.”
There can be side effects with every treatment, Schaeffer said. “Men can have trouble with their urination and with their sexual function after treatment with prostate cancer — it’s not just isolated to surgery,” he explained.
Stiller said he had to deal with some of the side effects, but suggested his sexual functions are working well. “Yeah, I’m doing good — all good,” he said with a laugh.
He added he wasn’t nervous about the side effects when considering treatments.
“When you’re confronted with the question of, ‘Hey — do you want to live or do you want to make sure your sex life is the best it can be?’, I opted for wanting to get rid of the cancer and then seeing what happens,” Stiller said. “And luckily, everything’s cool.”
By coming forward with his story, Stiller said he hopes more men talk to their doctors and get tested.
“The test itself is not horrible, it’s what could happen after,” he said. “If I hadn’t taken this test, I wouldn’t have known until it probably would have become something that was not going to have the outcome in terms of the treatment that it did have.”