Many may not know, that prostate cancer is the second most common cancer (after skin cancer) for men in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that for men one in seven will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. This amounts to approximately 220,800 new cases every year. The good news is that the disease is very treatable if found early. In many cases, the only “treatment” recommended is active surveillance, or “watchful waiting.”
Currently, almost 3 million American men count themselves as prostate cancer survivors. This includes celebs such as Robert De Niro, Harry Belafonte, and John Kerry.
1 – Ian McKellen
British actor Sir Ian McKellen (known to many Americans as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and as Magneto from X-Men) revealed in 2012 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 or 2006. So far, he’s been able to live healthily with the disease.
McKellen, 77, explained that his slow-growing kind of prostate cancer has not spread to other parts of his body. “Many, many men die from it, but it’s one of the cancers that is totally treatable, so I have ‘waitful watching.’ I am examined regularly, and it’s just contained, it’s not spreading. I’ve not had any treatment.”
2 – Robert De Niro (pictured)
Not even prostate cancer could slow down Academy Award winner Robert De Niro. Known for “tough guy” roles in films including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, the actor proved he had mettle offscreen, too, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 at age 60. Fortunately for him, and his family, friends, and fans, “the condition was detected at an early stage because of regular checkups, a result of his proactive personal healthcare program,” his publicist said in a statement.
Few details were released about the star’s treatment, but he went on to make a full recovery and, in 2011 at age 68, became a father for the sixth time to daughter Helen Grace Hightower, who was born via surrogate to him and his wife, Grace Hightower.
3 – Colin Powell
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also happens to be a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army, underwent surgery to remove a cancerous prostate gland in 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Since then, he has become a vocal supporter of prostate cancer awareness and has devoted his time to the Prostate Conditions Education Council, which sponsors Prostate Cancer Awareness Week every September.
On his birthday in 2011, he posted this message to fans on Facebook: “Today was my 73rd birthday, and the most valuable gift I received was all the well-wishes from so many of you. Thank you. As one of you noted, I am a prostate cancer survivor and a spokesman for prevention. Men should have regular prostate examinations … Regular exams allowed me to deal with this problem early and make a full recovery.”
4 – Roger Moore
Sir Roger Moore, a self-proclaimed hypochondriac and the longest-serving James Bond actor in history played the secret agent for 12 years. It began with 1973’s Live and Let Die and ended with 1985’s A View to a Kill. He faced one of his worst fears when he discovered he had prostate cancer in 1993. He later underwent a radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland) and made a full recovery, but the experience changed him forever. Shortly after completing treatment, Moore left his third wife, Luisa Mattioli, for Kristina Tholstrup, a former neighbor who had survived a similarly life-altering bout with breast cancer a few years before.
In 2009, he wrote about the health scare and resulting fallout in his memoir, My Word Is My Bond. “I had plenty of time to think about my life and how close I had been to losing it,” he recalled. “It was not very admirable behavior, I admit, but the seeds for life change had been planted and were beginning to grow.”
Moore died of cancer at age 89 on May 23, 2017, in Switzerland.
5 – John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry was a U.S. senator on the presidential campaign trail when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 at age 59. His father died from the same type of cancer at age 85. Kerry chose to be treated with surgery. In an interview with Coping With Cancer magazine, Kerry described his post-cancer lifestyle as follows: “I push myself to exercise consistently, and my wife Teresa stays on my case and challenges my worst instincts — she makes me eat a healthy, balanced diet!”
While he’s had no recurrence of the cancer, Kerry’s athletic lifestyle has led to numerous knee surgeries, two hip replacements, a broken nose and, in May 2015, a broken leg sustained in a bicycling accident in Geneva, Switzerland.
6 – Joe Torre
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, 76, has been an outspoken advocate for prostate cancer awareness ever since he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 1999. “What scared me initially, in addition to my cancer, was that I didn’t have the answers I needed,” he said in a 2000 interview with the Johns Hopkins Prostate Bulletin.
“It certainly was a very difficult time emotionally. I was a mess, my blood pressure had skyrocketed — all from being scared about the cancer and what I had to do about it.” Thankfully, Torre had help by his side from his wife, Ali. “I don’t know what I would have done if Ali hadn’t been there to get me through it all. It later became very clear to me that you need a spouse or a good friend to be there for you, to keep you on level ground and to give you hope,” he said in the bulletin. “Otherwise, saddled with a cancer diagnosis, it becomes so easy to think of your cancer as some sort of a dark hole, and that there is no way out for you.”
7 – Arnold Palmer
Golf legend Arnold Palmer had 62 PGA Tour wins, his own drink (half lemonade, half iced tea), and a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. But one of his proudest accomplishments was his triumph over prostate cancer. In the years following his 1997 diagnosis and treatment (a radical prostatectomy and radiation), Palmer used his celebrity to raise awareness of the disease among other men and to help found the Arnold Palmer Prostate Center, a nonprofit treatment destination at Eisenhower Lucy Curci Cancer Center in Rancho Mirage, California. He was adamant that all men should get screened.
Palmer died in September 2016, at age 87, of heart problems.
8 – Rudy Giuliani
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani knew the heartbreak that prostate cancer could cause even before he was diagnosed in April 2000: His father died of the disease 19 years earlier. Determined not to meet the same fate, Giuliani, now 72 and healthy, chose a multiphase treatment plan that consisted of four months of hormone therapy, implantation of radioactive pellets in his prostate (to radiate the cancer), and five weeks of almost-daily external-beam radiation with continuing hormone therapy. The plan was aggressive, but successful. It left the politician in both good health and good spirits.
9 – Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte, who is known as an actor, activist, and singer/songwriter can now add “survivor” to his resume after he fought and beat prostate cancer in 1996. In the years since, Belafonte, 89, has been refreshingly candid about his ordeal, even going public about his post-surgery struggles with incontinence, a common side effect that Belafonte said he conquered in less than a year with exercises (such as Kegels).
But he wasn’t always so comfortable opening up. “The prostate is something that attacks that central part of the male body that men are very preoccupied with. Somehow, any disorder there means your life is over, you can’t be a man anymore, you are now something less,” he said at a benefit for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute in Newport Beach, California, adding that he hoped to change that perception. “If you’re going to have [prostate cancer], you’re going to have it. It’s what you do about it that makes the difference — how you conduct your life.”
10 – Warren Buffett
In 2012, business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett, 86, announced to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway that he had been diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer after a high reading on a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, which measures the levels of the PSA enzyme in the blood. Buffett is chairman and CEO of the company and is considered by many to be the most successful investor of the 20th century.
As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Buffett said of his cancer, “I’ve been told by my doctors that my condition is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way.” He subsequently underwent 44 days of radiation therapy, treatment that was called unnecessary by some cancer specialists. In fact, some questioned whether he should have been having PSA tests at all at his age, saying the harms of treating prostate cancer in men older than 75 outweigh the benefits. Buffett himself seemed none the worse for wear from the experience.
11 – Ben Stiller
Actor Ben Stiller had no symptoms or family history of prostate cancer when he was diagnosed with the disease in June 2014 at age 48. He revealed his diagnosis publicly in October 2016 on The Howard Stern Show.
Stiller’s cancer came to light after his doctor ordered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test as part of a yearly physical. When Stiller’s test result came back high, his doctor ordered a follow-up test six months later. And when that test result was even higher, Stiller had several more tests and exams that confirmed he had prostate cancer. He subsequently had surgery to remove his prostate gland, and he continues to have PSA tests every six months to screen for recurrence of the cancer.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force discourages the use of routine prostate cancer testing, saying it leads to overdiagnosis — and overtreatment — of low-risk prostate cancers.
But, said Stiller in an essay he published, “Taking the PSA test saved my life.” Today, at age 50, Stiller is cancer-free.
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