MSNBC host and Philadelphian Chris Matthews probably won’t be back on the air for a while, but it’s safe to say his prognosis after prostate cancer surgery is excellent.
Matthews’ temporary replacement, Steve Kornacki, revealed on Monday night’s episode of Hardball that “Chris is recovering from prostate cancer surgery last week. The procedure went well, but he’s taking a few days to get back into fighting shape.”
It might take more than a few. Most men take six to eight weeks to recover from “radical prostatectomy” — the removal of the prostate gland, said Alex Kutikov, a urologic oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Even though surgery is now usually done minimally invasively with a robot system, it is a big operation.
Both surgery and radiation can be curative for men with cancer that is confined to the prostate. The five-year survival rate for men whose cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body is almost 100%, according to the American Cancer Society.
Details of Matthews’ diagnosis have not been released, but at 73, the outspoken commentator is beyond the age that expert guidelines recommend routine prostate cancer screening with the PSA blood test. The American Urological Association, for example, advises against screening men over age 70, “or any man with less than a 10 to 15 year life expectancy.”
However, the AUA also says some men over age 70 “who are in excellent health may benefit from prostate cancer screening.” The only chronic health problem Matthews has disclosed is diabetes — a disease that Kutikov said is common among older men diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Three years ago, when 50-year-old actor Ben Stiller revealed his prostate cancer at age 46 was diagnosed thanks to PSA testing, he waded deep into the heated debate over screening. Even the AUA has become increasingly conservative because prostate cancer is common (about 175,000 new cases this year) and many, if not most, tumors grow so slowly that they would never cause harm if left undetected.
Given the harms of prostate cancer treatment — a low risk of incontinence and a high risk of erectile dysfunction — the urologists’ group recommends men ages 55 to 69 consider screening after discussing the pros and cons with their doctor. That’s in line with the recommendation of U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Will Matthews’ choice of surgery hold sway with older men confronting a diagnosis? Kutikov, who believes radiation is a very good option for such men, hopes not.