How early detection helped Bret Hart ‘excellently execute’ cancer
CALGARY – Nearly a month after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, wrestling legend Bret “the Hitman” Hart said Monday he’s feeling good and cancer free.
“I like to think I’m on the other side of it now. I feel pretty confident that in the years ahead I’ll keep getting checked and keep getting monitored, but I think that I excellently executed prostate cancer.”
Fans first learned of Hart’s cancer diagnosis in early February, but the former wrestler said his doctor detected something suspicious several years ago.
“It was in 2013 that I realized I had an elevated PSA level.”
PSA screening measures the amount of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in a man’s blood. A high PSA level can indicate prostate cancer, but a biopsy is needed to confirm a cancer diagnosis. While Hart’s first biopsy did indicate he was suffering from cancer, his doctor didn’t believe the disease posed a threat.
“He originally started off with a very low grade disease that had a low chance of causing him any problems,” Dr. Eric Hyndman, a urologist at Calgary’s prostate cancer centre, said.
“We decided together to follow things along and not intervene at that time.”
Hyndman said Hart began a program known as “active surveillance”. Each year he received another PSA test and biopsy. The second test revealed once again that Hart was suffering from low grade disease but in 2015, testing revealed things had changed.
“At that time point he had a relatively rapid increase in his PSA, and we identified a much more significant prostate cancer that would be potentially life threatening for him.”
Surgery's over and on the long road to recovery. I want to thank Dr. Hyndman and the nursing staff at Rocky View Hospital for an outstanding job. I also want to thank my family, friends, and fans for all your love and support. Things are looking up and I should be home in the next couple of days. In the words of Vince McMahon: "It's onwards and upwards.
According to Hyndman, only about 30 per cent of men who have low grade disease will go on to develop more serious prostate cancer that, left untreated, will likely spread.
Hart said learning his cancer had become more serious was frightening.
“It was really scary for me, and the more I talked to people that had prostate cancer, it scared me more.”
After talking with Hyndman, Hart said he decided to proceed with surgery. On Feb. 10, he underwent a robotic prostatectomy–a minimally invasive procedure that allows surgeons to remove a patient’s prostate through a very small incision.
Hart decided to proceed with surgery last summer but he said it wasn’t until last month–a week before his scheduled procedure–that he decided to go public with his cancer diagnosis.
“I kind of knew where I was going with this probably as far back as June … but I din’t feel any need to tell anyone or make a big deal about it.”
Hart said he changed his mind after realizing sharing his story would encourage other men to get tested.
Pam Heard, executive director of Calgary’s prostate cancer centre, said they noticed an upswing in interest as soon as Hart made his condition public.
“Last month we held a special PSA screening clinic and over 80 men who would have never otherwise visited their family doctor came in to get a test; that was all because of Bret Hart.”
The PSA test and other early detection tools have recently come under fire. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal March 1 found that while PSA screening has increased the number of prostate cancer diagnoses, it has not decreased the number of deaths caused by the disease. In Hart’s case, however, Hyndman believes PSA testing and active surveillance likely saved the Hitman from more serious disease.
“He had relatively significant disease at the end. I’m sure it would have progressed to metastatic disease in relatively short order,” he said.
“And once it is metastic disease it is essentially incurable at that time point.”
Hart will continue to be monitored with annual PSA tests but Hyndman said it is very unlikely Hart’s cancer will return. Hart said he feels very lucky and hopes other men will learn from his experience, and make sure they’re being regularly screened.
“Early detection is the key to all of this. If you can get detected early, there’s a good chance–it’s in the high 90s–that you can make a full recovery.”
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