Dr. Drew Pinsky received a cancer diagnosis earlier in life than he was expecting, prompting him to advocate for early screening for men’s cancers.
Drew Pinsky, M.D.
Dr. Drew Pinsky suspected that one day he might receive a cancer diagnosis. “My dad and my uncle had prostate cancer in their 70s, so I always assumed I would get it in my 70s,” he says. It came as something of a surprise, then, when Pinsky received a diagnosis of prostate cancer in his 50s.
Pinsky’s wife was the first to suggest he needed to consult with someone after a terrible flu left him in a bad state. Pinsky saw a urologist who noticed his PSA was high, potentially evidence of prostatitis. Antibiotics and non-steroidal medicines didn’t help, at which point the urologist recommended a biopsy. Pinsky was hesitant at first, thinking a biopsy was unnecessarily invasive. After the biopsy came back, he realized he’d been wrong.
Pinsky now works with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to encourage men to take their health seriously by screening for cancers early. “Once you hit about age 40, you’re being silly not to think about this seriously, because there’s so much good screening,” he says.
Pinsky highlights the importance of screening to battle prostate cancer. One of the difficulties in getting men to consider screening is that cancers can often present no symptoms in their early stages, meaning there can be no red flags to watch out for to signal you need to be screened. “Most people get their healthcare from the emergency room, which is the absolute worst place, and it’s not involved in screening at all,” Pinsky says. “Our whole system is not properly aligned.”
“One of our big challenges is raising awareness in Black men of their risks because they tend to present with more aggressive tumors and more progression at presentation,” Pinsky says. “That’s the group that I don’t think we’re making much headway with, and I’m gravely concerned about them. The only traction I’ve gotten is with the daughters, granddaughters, and nieces who are more than willing to help us out. They get it. But the men, of course, are still resistant.”
There are some pre-existing conditions that can make you more susceptible to certain cancers, which can also let you know when you should start screening. “If you have a first-degree relative with prostate cancer, your screening begins at 40 — everybody else at 50,” Pinsky says. “There are genetic screening instruments you can use these days that are quite inexpensive. I used a service called Color.com to screen for the common genetic problems that predispose to certain cancers, but there are other commercially available products, and you should discuss options with your doctor.”
Pinsky did research into his own pre-existing conditions. “It turns out I have something called lynch syndrome,” he says. “With lynch syndrome, prostate cancer is more frequent, but it’s mostly associated with GI cancers, so my GI cancer screening has been stepped up a whole bunch.”
In the medical community, there is a lot of focus on wellness as a preventative measure, but Pinsky believes that screening is still the most important tool in battling cancers. “Of course, everybody should be eating better and exercising, but we really need to get on top of screening. People should not be presenting with advanced prostate cancer. People should not be presenting with colon cancer that penetrates the stroma. We shouldn’t have that.”