Robert De Niro health: Star urged men to get tested after prostate cancer – ‘Do it now!’

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After losing his father to cancer back in 1993 at the age of 71, De Niro was about to have a cancer battle of his own, but at the age of 60. The actor’s prostate cancer was caught during a PSA screening test and although he kept the details of his ordeal very private, a statement released at the time by his publicist, credited the star’s “proactive personal healthcare programme,” for catching the disease in its early stages. Since overcoming his cancer, the 78-year-old has seemingly remained in good health, and has kept up his healthy lifestyle and workout routine.

After receiving treatment for his cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, in New York City, it has been reported that he had a prostatectomy – the removal of the prostate gland – although this has never been officially confirmed by the actor or his representatives.

But it was clear the disease was not going to hold him down for long, as in 2004, he returned to work, starring in a film titled Hide and Seek, released in 2005 by 20th Century Fox.

One of the only times the star’s cancer battle has been mentioned, was when he was taken to court in 2007 for misrepresenting his health status.

His lawyer Robyn Crowther gave a rare insight into the disease, saying: “One day you don’t have cancer, and the next day you get diagnosed and you do, and this happened to be in the middle of those couple of days.

“It is important that men get regular screenings.”

It is thought that his battle with cancer, as well as losing his father to the disease, contributed to his statement: “Time goes on. So whatever you’re going to do, do it. Do it now. Don’t wait.”

Prostate cancer is typically a slow developing condition that may not cause any signs or symptoms for many years. Despite this, the longer the cancer develops and grows, the hard it will be to treat.

One reason why there are typically no symptoms is due to the way the cancer grows. Prostate Cancer UK explains that if the cancer grows near the urethra and presses against it, symptoms such as difficulty urinating will occur.

However, because prostate cancer doesn’t often press on the urethra, instead growing usually on the outer part of the prostate, symptoms do not present themselves.

Instead, experiencing changes when you urinate are often more likely caused by a very common non-cancerous problem called an enlarged prostate, or another health problem.

For those that do experience prostate cancer symptoms, it is more likely that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body – usually known as advanced prostate cancer – which can cause the following symptoms:

  • Back pain, hip pain or pelvic pain
  • Problems getting or keeping an erection
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Unexplained weight loss.

In order to diagnose the condition, individuals will usually have a blood test, physical examination or biopsy. The reason why multiple tests are carried out is that a simple blood test on its own, known as a PSA test, can be unreliable.

The NHS explains that an individual’s PSA level can be raised by other, non-cancerous conditions and crucially, using just a PSA test, doctors cannot tell a doctor whether you have life-threatening prostate cancer or not.

Therefore, for those with raised levels, an MRI scan of the prostate will be offered to help doctors decide if you need further tests and treatment.

It is for this reason that regular screenings and check-ups, especially if individuals are more at risk of developing the condition, are important. According to Cancer Research UK, older age is the main risk factor for cancer.

The charity noted that: “This largely reflects cell DNA damage accumulating over time. Damage can result from biological processes or from exposure to risk factors.” These other risk factors may include:

  • Age – the risk rises as you get older, and most cases are diagnosed in men over 50 years of age
  • Ethnic group – prostate cancer is more common among men of African-Caribbean and African descent than in Asian men
  • Family history – having a brother or father who developed prostate cancer before age 60 seems to increase your risk of developing it; research also shows that having a close female relative who developed breast cancer may also increase a person’s risk of developing prostate cancer
  • Obesity – recent research suggests there may be a link between obesity and prostate cancer. A balanced diet and regular exercise may lower a person’s risk of developing prostate cancer
  • Diet – research is ongoing into the links between diet and prostate cancer, and there is some evidence that a diet high in calcium is linked to an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

In current research led by the University of East Anglia, a certain type of bacteria has been connected with aggressive prostate cancer, after monitoring genetic analyses on the urine and prostate tissue of more than 600 men with and without prostate cancer.

Although findings like this do not prove that the bacteria drive or exacerbate prostate cancer, it provides some evidence to find out their role. Researchers can now start to develop tests to identify men most at risk and potentially find antibiotics to prevent the cancer from claiming thousands of lives each year.

Once diagnosed, treatment for prostate cancer can begin. If caught early enough, a process known to the NHS as “watchful waiting” or “active surveillance” might be preferred. However, in other cases individuals may need surgery to remove the prostate followed by radiotherapy.

Surgery to remove the prostate either partially or completely is known as a prostatectomy. According to Mayo Clinic, prostatectomy includes a number of surgical procedures to remove part or all of the prostate gland. Radiotherapy is then used to kill any remaining cancer cells.

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