Ben Stiller says he survived deadly prostate cancer two years ago because of early detection – and now he wants to spread the word about getting tested.
The 50-year-old actor said in an interview on The Howard Stern Show Tuesday morning that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 48.
“It came out of the blue for me,” Stiller said. “I had no idea.”
Although Stiller says he had no history of prostate cancer in his family and had no symptoms, his doctor suspected the cancer due to a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test, a simple blood test he received during his annual physical.
“If I hadn’t gotten the test, my doctor started giving it to me at 46, I still wouldn’t know,” he said.
Stiller added, “I wanted to talk about it because of the test, because I feel like the test saved my life.”
Stiller’s doctor gave him PSA test and found that his levels were high. Although he wasn’t immediately concerned, the doctor re-administered the test six months later and found the PSA had gone up even more.
“After the second time, I started to get a little worried,” Stiller said.
The actor went through a series of tests, including an MRI and biopsy, to determine if he definitely had prostate cancer, which he did.
“As my new, world-altering doctor spoke about cell cores and Gleason scores, probabilities of survival, incontinence and impotence, why surgery would be good and what kind would make the most sense, his voice literally faded out like every movie or TV show about a guy being told he had cancer… a classic Walter White moment, except I was me, and no one was filming anything at all,” Stiller explains in an essay about his diagnosis for Medium.
Once the diagnosis was made, Stiller had to wait six weeks for his body to heal from the biopsy to have surgery to remove his prostate.
“I was diagnosed on Friday the 13th, then I had until August 23rd to get ready for the surgery. So I just had the summer to hang out and think about it,” he said.
He even reached out to some of his A-list pals, including Meet the Fockers co-star Robert De Niro, who previously battled prostate cancer.
Unlike De Niro, Stiller opted to stay quiet about his diagnosis at first.
“At first, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he told Stern. “I was scared. The one thing that it does is it just stops everything in your life when you get diagnosed with cancer because you can’t plan for a movie – you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
After his surgery, another PSA test was given to make sure things were going in the right direction – and they were.
The actor said wants to open up about his experience now in order to help others. However, the PSA test has been controversial.
“The criticism of the test is that depending on how they interpret the data, doctors can send patients for further tests like the MRI and the more invasive biopsy, when not needed,” Stiller wrote for Medium. “Physicians can find low-risk cancers that are not life threatening, especially to older patients. In some cases, men with this type of cancer get “over-treatment” like radiation or surgery, resulting in side effects such as impotence or incontinence. Obviously this is not good; however it’s all in the purview of the doctor treating the patient.”
He continues, “But without this PSA test itself, or any screening procedure at all, how are doctors going to detect asymptomatic cases like mine, before the cancer has spread and metastasized throughout one’s body rendering it incurable? Or what about the men who are most at risk, those of African ancestry, and men who have a history of prostate cancer in their family? Should we, as the USPSTF suggests, not screen them at all?”
Stiller credits the test with saving his life and wants others to have a conversation about the test with their doctors.
“This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one,” he concludes his essay. “But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early.”