What Bret " The Hitman" Hart's Battles Against Prostate Cancer Can Teach all of US

You may recognize the name from Bret Hart’s younger days as professional wrestler in the WWE.  Bret "The Hitman" Hart, as he was and still is known, was a five-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion who may be facing one of his toughest battles yet.  A survivor at heart, Bret Hart has announced his diagnosis and fight against prostate cancer this week.

 It is unclear how long Hart has been fighting prostate cancer, but it is our hope that his openness about his diagnosis and treatment will help other men facing the same silent killer. Hart says, “I refuse to lose, I will never give in or give up, and I will win this battle or die trying. Most important of all, I hope I can take the fight to prostate cancer. To be a leader in awareness and to set the example for men everywhere who find themselves in my very same shoes, that prostate cancer can be beaten.” He is a true inspiration to all men facing the challenges of prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment.

This is not the 58 year old’s first serious health battle, having had a stroke in the early 2000’s, but the professional wrestler does call his battle with prostate cancer his “toughest battle” yet.   “The Hitman” Hart, retired from a successful career in wrestling after suffering a concussion in 1999. Brett Hart has shared that he is set to undergo surgery in the next few days for prostate cancer.

We commend this WWE Hall of Famer, for the strength he is showing by sharing his battle against prostate cancer with the world. In an emotional Facebook post, Hart writes "I make a solemn vow to all of those that once believed in me, the dead and the living, that I will wage my fearsome fight against cancer with one shield and one sword carrying my determination and my fury for life, emboldened by all the love that's kept me going this long already."

Despite our efforts in early detection, prostate cancer remains the second leading cancer cause of death in men, killing approximately 27,500 men this year. Tens of thousands of additional men suffer from the burden of painful metastatic prostate cancer, which can lead to bone fractures, the inability to urinate, spinal cord compression and renal failure.   Since the widespread adoption of PSA screening in the early 1990’s, however, there has been a 39% reduction in prostate cancer mortality rates.   

For most men, prostate cancer isn’t a concern until after the age of 55.  And while the majority of prostate cancer diagnoses occur amid that age group, prostate cancer does get diagnosed in men much younger than that.  Current governmental guidelines may give a false sense of security in younger men who are quick to believe prostate cancer is an “old man’s disease”. The truth is, prostate cancer can strike at any age, it does not discriminate, and early detection is our best defense against this silent killer.  Early detection happens through screening and the PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test. Prostate cancer is a mostly asymptomatic disease, so if we tell men not to get screened we’re essentially saying, ‘Yes, you may very well get prostate cancer and, yes, it might become painfully metastatic, but wouldn’t it just be easier not knowing?’  The ability to make informed decisions and accurate interpretations, comes from education.

Because PSA tests are not necessarily straightforward, simple or easy diagnostic tools, knowing your risk factors and tracking the changes in PSA can help you make informed decisions about your health. Until we get improved diagnostic testing, younger men need to be encouraged to understand their risk factors when it comes to prostate cancer, and get screened.  High risk men include, but are not limited to, men of African American descent, and men with a family history of prostate cancer.  These groups should begin screening at age 40, followed by annual tests.  Knowledge really is power in the fight against prostate cancer. By spreading the word, we are doing our part in reducing the number of men who need to lose their lives to prostate cancer.

Key facts about prostate cancer:

·        1 in 7 men in the US will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime

·        2nd most common cancer among US men after skin cancer

·        2nd leading cause of death in US men after lung cancer

·        1 in 38 men will die of prostate cancer

·        African-American men have highest risk; more likely to develop aggressive disease, be diagnosed at younger age, and 2.5 times as likely to die from it

The best way to prevent prostate cancer is by being proactive about your health. Here’s how:

1.     Know the risk factors

·       Race/Ethnicity – African-American men are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.5 times as likely to die from it, compared to Caucasian men.

·       Age – More than 65% of prostate cancers occur in men over 65. However, young men get it too, and it is usually more aggressive.

·       Family history – Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk for getting prostate cancer.

·       Weight – Obese men (BMI 30+) have greater risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer, and are 33% more likely to die from it.

2.     Maintain a healthy diet and be physically active

·       Low-fat, fruits and veggies, fish, more plants than animals, less dairy

·       At least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week

3.     Get routine screenings

·       PSA blood test and DRE once a year.

4.     Treat quickly, and aggressively

·       If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, talk to a specialist about treatment options to determine which type is best for your cancer and when to have it done. Listen to your doctor; do not procrastinate. If appropriate, a robotic prostatectomy is often the most successful form of treatment.