In a surprising reveal, actor Ben Stiller revealed that he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer two years ago, at the age of 48, on the Howard Stern Show on Tuesday.
The Zoolander actor told Stern about his experience with diagnosing and treating the illness, as well as advocated for the importance of early testing.
The actor shared that at the age of 46, his doctor chose to give him the Prostate Specific Antigen test as part of routine annual blood work despite not having any risk factors for prostate cancer, a test not normally included in routine examinations.
Over the next two years, his annual PSA test showed rising levels, prompting a urologist to order an MRI. Doctors found a tumor and took a biopsy to determine if it was malignant. “I had a Gleason score of 7, which is categorized mid-range aggressive cancer,” Stiller wrote. “Surgery was recommended.”
“It came out of the blue for me. I had no idea,” Stiller said to Stern on the show. “At first, I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I was scared. It just stopped everything in your life because you can’t plan for a movie because you don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Stiller said that immediately after his diagnosis, he took to Google to look up men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Upon learning that “Meet the Parents” co-star Robert De Niro was a prostate cancer survivor, Stiller called De Niro, who recommended his own surgeon, Dr. Ted Schaeffer. Two years later, he remains cancer-free and continues to monitor his PSA levels.
The actor emphasized the role the PSA test took in saving his life.
“If (the doctor) had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50,” Stiller wrote in his article, “I would not have known I had a growing tumor until two years after I got treated. If he had followed the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, I would have never gotten tested at all, and not have known I had cancer until it was way too late to treat successfully.”
“It’s the second most deadly cancer, but it’s about one of the most curable,” Stiller told Stern. It is also the second most diagnosed among men and rarely displays early symptoms.
Current American Cancer Society testing recommendations suggest that men of average risk, like Stiller, begin testing at age 50, while men in high-risk groups such as those of African-American or Scandinavian ancestry are recommended to begin testing at age 45. However, Stiller suggests all men over 40 begin talking to their doctors about prostate cancer screening.
“This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one,” Stiller wrote. “But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early.”
Despite Stern’s advocacy, many doctors maintain that the test is more harmful than helpful overall. American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley commented on Stern‘s piece, saying “The thing Ben Stiller doesn’t understand is that his case is based on one positive experience. He hasn’t heard of all of the men who have had negative experiences.”
“The tests have bad operating systems,” Brawley said to CNN. “They sometimes miss cancer that needs to be found, and they find cancer that doesn’t need to be found.” Men with rising numbers may experience depression or suicidal thoughts, even if they never develop cancer, due to the stress the testing may cause, Brawley said. The chief medical officer instead recommended improved prostate screening tests be developed to address men’s needs without prompting unnecessary or invasive procedures.
[Featured Image by Mike Coppola/Getty Images]