How a Simple Genetic Test Saved My Life from Prostate Cancer


Myriad’s Prolaris Test May Have Saved Joe’s Life From Prostate Cancer

Two years ago, my doctor informed me I had prostate cancer. The news was totally shocking to me, after all, cancer doesn’t run in my family. I just didn’t see it coming.

Nobody expects to hear the words, “You’ve got CANCER.” I knew it was going to be difficult telling my wife I had cancer, she had lost her mother to breast cancer several years ago and it would be very emotional for her to watch another loved one go through this battle. But she was my rock, giving me strength through her faith that I would beat this. What I did not expect was how difficult it would be telling my mother that her son had cancer. As a parent I knew that sort of news may be the worst any parent could receive.

After recently going through two major surgeries, including a total hip replacement, my life and career seemed to be going great again. Just two years earlier, I had started an exciting new job with Myriad Genetics as an area manager in the Oncology Business Unit. And now I was facing an unexpected obstacle, again.

When I was diagnosed, my Gleason score was 6 and my PSA was also 6. My urologist explained all the potential treatment options to fight the disease. He said based on my Gleason and PSA scores, I might be a good candidate for active surveillance, possibly avoiding surgery and radiation – and who wouldn’t want that?

Working in the medical field and especially in oncology, I was not short of professional advice from colleagues. Several people told me to have surgery to remove my prostate. Others, including my primary care physician and personal friend, recommended doing nothing, repeating the common line “most men die with prostate cancer not from prostate cancer.” To say I was confused by the variety of opinions is a big understatement.

However, my urologist said, “Before we decide to do anything let’s order a genetic test, called Prolaris, to help us look inside the cancer cells and determine how aggressive the cancer is at the molecular level.”

I knew about the Prolaris test, which is offered by my employer. Although, Prolaris isn’t one of the products I sell, I knew that it measures the activity of 46 genes to determine a patient’s risk of dying from prostate cancer within 10 years. At Myriad Genetics, we believe that knowledge is power, and if I was going to consider active surveillance I wanted as much knowledge as I could get about the risks associated with my decision.

As it turned out, the decision to run a Prolaris test may have saved my life. A few days later, while on vacation in Mexico, I called my doctor to get my Prolaris test score. My score was “4.8” which meant I had a tumor that was in the top one percent of most aggressive prostate cancers. All my life I tried to be at the top of any class, but this was the one class I never wanted to be the top of! It was now very clear to me that taking a “wait and see” approach may actually have serious consequences. Within the month, I had surgery to remove my prostate and cancer.

I really do believe that the information I received from my Prolaris test saved my life. My Gleason and PSA scores indicated I had a low grade tumor and likely would do well by doing nothing. But as my doctor explained, that didn’t paint a complete picture of my disease. It wasn’t until I had the test that I fully understood my risk profile and could confidently choose the right path forward.

I recommend all men over age 40 speak with their doctor about prostate cancer screening. Don’t be shy and ask lots of questions. If you’re one of the 180,000 men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, be sure to ask about the Prolaris test. It may save your life, too, or possibly help you forgo unnecessary treatment. I also recommend asking about genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndromes. Men with a high Gleason Score or family history of certain cancers may carry a genetic mutation that caused their cancer and may put them at risk of developing a second cancer. And since these mutations are hereditary, close family members may carry the same mutation and therefore be at risk of developing cancer themselves; and not just prostate but breast and ovarian cancer—among others. But with proper surveillance we can prevent that occurrence. I took a Myriad myRisk 28 gene test which came up negative; so now not only do I know that I am not at high risk of a secondary cancer, I know my family and children are not at high risk of developing cancer. You see, knowledge is power.

Today, I am back at work with a new attitude and outlook on life. I have peace of mind, knowing I made the right treatment decision for me and my family. I’m healthier, happier and more active than ever. My wife and I recently bought a home in Cabo – the same place where I first learned about my Prolaris score – where we hope to eventually retire and enjoy life for years to come.