The Prairie Doc: Finding the right balance with cancer screenings

Dr. Kenneth A. Bartholomew
The Prairie Doc
Kenneth A. Bartholomew, M.D.

As a physician with 45 years of practice, I’ve seen my share of diseases. I have usually been on the physician side of the diagnosis-treatment paradigm. However, knowing the rationale for diagnostic screening tests, I fortunately did not shirk my own.

Testing too much or too frequently leads to insignificant findings that may have no long-term consequences yet create worry and further testing. Too often, this can lead to surgery that does not save lives but carries pain, disability, unnecessary expense and sometimes post-op infection that occasionally is fatal. Knowing what and when to test is a crucial conversation to have with your doctor.

Although annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing is no longer recommended, periodic testing may raise suspicion if a rising pattern is seen. As luck would have it, this turned out to be my dilemma, so I retested six months later, and when my PSA continued to climb, I went in for a biopsy. The biopsy showed a very aggressive type of cancer, the type that metastasizes very quickly to bone. Surgery was scheduled and computed tomography or CT scans ordered to help with staging my surgery.

Even though I had had three colonoscopies in the preceding 25 years, the CT scan showed a tumor inside my colon that was only about one millimeter from breaking through the wall and spreading to other organs. An extra year of procrastinating would almost certainly have found me with two cancers that would have already spread. Catching them early, surgery was curative, and I was one of the lucky ones who did not have to undergo months of radiation or chemotherapy.

So, please, have this discussion with your doctor, and review the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines, as these vary with age, family history and your unique set of risk factors. Go to cancer.org and be proactive. Catch it early and you too can go on enjoying life with your family for years to come.

Dr. Kenneth A. Bartholomew is a contributing Prairie Doc columnist. He lives in Fort Pierre, South Dakota and serves on the Healing Words Foundation Board of Directors, a 501c3 which provides funding for Prairie Doc programs. Follow The Prairie Doc at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook.