Invasion of the
Prostate Snatchers

No More Unnecessary Biopsies
Radical Treatment or
Loss of Sexual Potency

Ralph H. Blum
Mark Scholz, M. D.

(Other Press)

    The unpleasant fact is that any type of surgery brings with it the risk of infection, unremitting lifelong pain and temporary or permanent memory loss from anesthesia. Blood clots and heart attacks can also occur. These risks are not high in carefully selected individuals. But evidence indicates that many doctors fail to practice sufficient discrimination in selecting patients for surgical procedures, often, for example, electing to operate on men over age 70.

Oh, had I but read this twenty years ago, when I went through my first "elective" surgery, commonly known as "TURP" ... which is nothing but a butcher's flailing attack on the prostate. If I had but waited a few years, a new laser procedure would have opened my restricted floodgates, and would have done it in a far less damaging way.

Then I let a doctor shame me into installing a pacemaker ("You are a danger on the road driving with your heart as it is now.") The gizmo she showed me was not what she ended up sticking in my chest. What she held looked like a pretty ruffled fifty-cent piece. I didn't think about it then (and she wasn't about to show me) was that attached to this slim cylinder were two six-inch thick cables that had to be wound about and then plunged into one of my most beloved possessions, that is, my heart.

She apparently, however, did not know her way around in the chest cavity sufficiently well, and when she jammed the cable through the wall of my heart, blood gushed out. Soon after, a blood pressure cuff caused the blood to pool in my upper left shoulder, damaging the delicate nerves that go down to my left side. Numbness now plagues my left arm and hand.

My two misfortunes came about in two relatively simple operations. Imagine the prostatectomy as described in this book. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, read --- and don't forget --- this:

    The prostate is located within millimeters of the urinary bladder and the rectum, so there is zero tolerance for a slip of the scalpel. To make matters worse, there is a prolific venous blood supply surrounding the gland. Even the best surgeons can end up operating in a pool of blood, without a clear view of the object they are trying delicately to remove .... The greatest danger from pooling blood in the operative field is the surgeon's restricted ability to see clearly in order to spare the minuscule nerves that control erections --- nerves thinner than a human hair and invisible to the unaided eye.

§     §     §

These two authors --- one a MD who specializes in prostate cancer, the other a writer who has lived with that very cancer for more than twenty years --- have teamed up to offer a contrarian view of treatment for this condition. A study in the "New England Journal of Medicine" concluded that PSA testing followed by biopsies led to early radical [surgical] treatment but it did not save lives (our italics).

So why do men go ahead with an operation that may effectively castrate them for the rest of their lives, if not create other vicious post-trauma difficulties? The word is one of the scariest words in the English language: "cancer." In its ability to turn us into mush, it lies right there next to "death," "dying," or "Sarah Palin."

For what the surgeons often fail to tell their patients is that prostate cancer usually turns up in men over the age of seventy --- the odds are more than 50% --- but it is a very slow-moving cancer, and after a certain age, radical treatment is just not worth the shock to the system.

There are alternatives. Ralph Blum is frank about the many different approaches he has come up with over the years in order to avoid being "sliced, fried, or poisoned." This includes a variety of traditional scans and blood tests, but, too, includes traditional oriental medicine, "herbs, botanicals, nutritional supplements, acupuncture and acupressure, aromatherapy and various forms of massage."

The two writers here have chosen to alternate their chapters, and it is an effective way to get their message across. Scholz's technical discussion is balanced with Blum's more nuanced, if not more mordant, story of his ongoing attempt to not going under the knife, becoming what he calls a "refusenik."

There are copious interesting facts sprinkled around Invasion. Men are often literally frightened to death when they are diagnosed with prostate cancer. "During the first week after diagnosis, the risk of suicide goes up twenty-two-fold. Even the supposedly 'simple and safe' biopsy of the prostate (involving several needle punctures) will miss 20% of the cancers, and those who have it can face a small risk of infection "requiring hospitalization." Even a month after biopsy, over 40% of the men reported erectile dysfunction.

An alternative treatment are Lupron shots, which can be given to shrink prostate cancers. In the process, they bring male testosterone levels down to zilch. This hormone blockade can make a grown man cry, literally. One of Blum's friends said that after a course of Lupron, "when he felt a crying jag coming on, he would take refuge in the shower, where he would stand under the water, bawling like a baby." Another side-effect of medical testosterone blockage (called, in the trade, TIP) is "shrinkage of the penis." Blum tells us that there is no cure for this, no matter what you may read on the internet.

One of the virtues of the Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers is its honesty. Dr. Scholz's horror stories about other doctors are enough to give one nightmares before going into any hospital for any procedure whatsoever. At the same time, Blum's story of canceling out of an operation an hour or so before it took place is a definite profile in courage. Oh that I had had the courage to do the same when they recently went to work on what's left of my heart, there at our local medical center. [Gasps ... wheezes ... he falls over before his computer in a terminal faint.]

--- C. A. Amantea
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