Publimelted September 28, 2007

This post was published even more than 10 years earlier. Some indevelopment in it may no much longer be current.

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When Richard Wassersug provides a lecture, he likes to begin through a provocative question: Who in our modern society is castrated?

The answer invariably comes back loud and also clear: sex offenders. Someone may venture another guess: transsexuals? Or maybe men via testicular cancer?

Wrong, wrong and wrong.


In truth, castration is nearly exclusively the lot of guys with progressed prostate cancer.

An approximated 500,000 males in North America have actually been surgically or chemically castrated, the last through a treatment recognized as androgen deprivation treatment, and their ranks are swelling by 40,000 a year. Yet the exercise and also the disastrous side effects that deserve to result are practically never before debated publicly, and most patients endure alone in silence.


"Right currently, it"s such a humiliation to be androgen-deprived that patients badepend also talk to various other patients," shelp Dr. Wassersug, a professor of anatomy at Dalhousie College in Halifax, and also a prostate cancer survivor. "To admit that you"ve been castrated is shameful."

But Dr. Wassersug and a prospering number of activists have no such shame. They are aiming not just to break the silence but to end the emasculation - sex-related, social and also medical - that castration have the right to lug about.

Dr. Wassersug was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998, at age 52. He underwent surgical removal of his prostate - a walnut-sized gland also situated between the bladder and also the rectum - and radiation.

The therapies faicaused remove all the cancerous cells, so he was prescribed androgen-deprivation therapy.

Prostate cancer is a hormonally sustained cancer. Cancerous cells feed on testosterone - the principal male sex hormone - and the means to snuff out their spreview is cut off the fuel supply.


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Many testosterone (additionally well-known as an androgen) is produced in the testicles. So guys are left with an agonizing choice: Accept castration - surgical or chemical - or danger cancer running rampant in the body. "Tright here are numerous thousands of men that are faced through this challenging decision," sassist Andrew Lobregulation, a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre in Toronto.

Worse yet, the decision is not nearly as clear reduced as it appears, bereason of the possibly disastrous side impacts and the fact that while ADT may expand stays, it does not save them.

While avoiding the production of testosterone slows cancer growth, researchers do not recognize exactly who benefits many from ADT, when it is finest to begin treatment and also, even more important, whether castration enhances top quality of life in the lengthy run.

"We really don"t have actually excellent answers for those concerns," Dr. Loblegislation shelp. He is presently recruiting prostate cancer patients for a study that should provide answers, yet it will certainly take at least a decade.

In the meantime, Dr. Loblegislation shelp, it is necessary for patients to comment on the issue more openly and also make decisions based upon the ideal available proof. "In my suffer," he said, "world desire to select their poiboy."

Many treated successfully


This year in Canada, 223,000 guys will be diagnosed via prostate cancer, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Many of them will be treated properly and ultimately die of another reason. But 4,300 men will die of prostate cancer. All of them, and many kind of others, will have been offered castration as a way of prolonging their resides.

ADT aims to shut dvery own production either via orchiectomy (surgical removal of the testicles) or utilizing drugs called luteinizing hormone releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists.

In 1941, Charles Huggins, a Canadian-born researcher, confirmed that rerelocating the testicles significantly enhanced the fate of males via prostate cancer, a discovery that earned him a Nobel Prize. Then, in the early 1980s, French scientist Ferdinand Labrie confirmed the exact same effects might be achieved via drugs, and also LHRH agonists have actually been the typical therapy since.

In most instances, the therapy have the right to go on for years, even decades. But, increasingly, males are likewise prescribed ADT temporarily, for the months before they get radiation.

"The side effects are astonishing," Dr. Wassersug said. "My symptoms were the same as a woguy at menopause other than they came on in days, not years."

Hot flashes were the worst. Night sweats soaked the bed. Impotence. Loss of libido. Cognitive problems intended that he can lose his automobile in a parking lot. A roller coaster of emotions: "I would certainly cry during TV commercials," he shelp - particularly those sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.


Tbelow were physical transforms, too: loss of all body hair (other than the groin and the face - that just occurs if someone is castrated prior to puberty); loss of muscle mass; shrinking gonads; gynecomastia (breastern development) and build-up of body fat. Research is showing increasingly that ADT increases the hazard of cardiovascular disease (and also sudden heart attack in particular), and also diabetes and osteoporosis.

Dr. Wassersug believes ADT is prescribed in a cavalier fashion and patients are not adequately indeveloped of the side results.

He said ADT is often presented as a therapy of last retype - "a selection in between impotence or life and that sounds choose a fair trade-off. But is it really? The tradeoff is really dying of prostate cancer versus dying of a broken hip or a heart assault. And I"m not even discussing the 16 various other unpleasant side results."

Dean Ruether, a medical oncologist at Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, sassist informed consent is a genuine worry in prescribing ADT. "It"s not inexplicable for a guy to not fully understand the implications of the therapy, however we attempt," he shelp.

The difficulty is not distinct to prostate cancer, yet talk of side effects frequently appears abstract to patients. This is doubly true of ADT, Dr. Ruether shelp, bereason there is so little bit public discussion of the therapy, and also its pros and cons. "Men are founding to come in better educated, however they have actually a lengthy way to go compared to women with breastern cancer," he shelp.

Bob Shiell, president of the Canadian Prostate Cancer Netjob-related, said men would certainly absolutely advantage from being better indeveloped. But oncologists and urologists - the doctors who mainly diagnose prostate cancer - need to realize, too, that "freshly diagnosed patients are in such a state of shock that they will certainly go with simply about any type of recommendation," he sassist. "They don"t take the moment to investigate their alternatives or the affect on the quality of life via each alternative."


Mr. Shiell shelp that, unfortunately, males watch their prostate in the very same manner as their appendix: "I"ll have actually it out and also I"ll be fine."

In truth, while prostate cancer is often shown as little bit more than an annoyance, it deserve to be life altering. Common side results of surgery and also radiation therapy include impotence (the incapability to preserve an erection), incontinence (loss of regulate over the release of urine) and infertility (the incapacity to create viable sperm).

If major therapy falls short - as it does in one in 5 situations - the following action is androgen-deprivation treatment, and castration.

Man couldn"t urinate

Fred McHenry, a civil engineer at the moment, was on a plane from Singapore to Vancouver as soon as he realized he was unable to urinate. His doctor instantly suspected a prostate problem. "Until then, I had actually no concept what the prostate was," he shelp.

Mr. McHenry quickly found out even more than he ever before cared to understand. A urologist "did a Roto-Rooter job on my prostate" - a biopsy - but tright here was no sign of cancer, he said.


Three years later on, in 1997, Mr. McHenry went back to the doctor. He did have actually prostate cancer, an aggressive develop. He underwent surgical procedure and radiation, however his PSA (prostate certain antigen - a protein in the blood that deserve to be an indication of cancer) ongoing to climb precipitously.

He was offered ADT however opted for surgical castration. "Some civilization cringe at the idea of rerelocating the testicles, however I wanted the finest and also quickest solution so I little bit the bullet," shelp Mr. McHenry, currently 75.

Loss of sexual function was not an worry, he sassist, bereason the initial surgical procedure had actually left him impotent.

But impotence and also its ripple impacts, from loss of intimacy to depression, are major problems for many type of guys. According to one study, fully half of guys on ADT end up divorced in brief order. (Mr. McHenry remains happily married.)

John Robinboy, a psychologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, said the mental and sex-related ramifications of advanced prostate cancer treatment are expensive and also underappreciated. Cancer is not a condition of an individual, it"s a household illness; prostate cancer, in specific, is a couple"s disease because it casts such a dark shadow over the marital bed.

Dr. Robinboy sassist the majority of couples simply provide up on sex because the guy have the right to no much longer acquire or sustain an erection. Tbelow are aides available prefer Viagra and penile implants, yet what is really forced is a readjust in mindset, he said.

"The message I attempt to supply is that you deserve to have actually satisfying, gratifying sex without an erect penis," he said.

The psychologist - who now treats prostate cancer patients nearly permanent - shelp males are finally beginning to soptimal openly around ADT, and that will make his job of education and learning much easier. But he cautioned that openness is a double-edged sword, specifically once dealing with emotionally loaded terms choose castration.

"The words are effective and can be hurtful," Dr. Robinson sassist. "If a guy feels impotent, castrated, emasculated, he"s not going to feel excellent around himself."

The decision on whether to undergo ADT have the right to be a Catch-22. Yes, the side impacts are horrible; they can also be fatal. But a fatality from prostate cancer is excruciating: Cancer migrates into the bone, leading to pain that is intense and untreatable.

Regardless of all he has actually been via, Mr. McHenry sassist, that remains the more ignominious fate, and his best problem. "Men shouldn"t are afraid ADT," he sassist. "They should fear the different."

But for Dr. Wassersug, the prostate cancer patient in Halifax, the debilitating side results led him to opt for an additional create of ADT - estrogen, a female sex hormone that deserve to also suppush testosterone manufacturing in men. When ADT was initially emerged back in the 1940s, estrogen was the drug of option, however it was discontinued bereason it substantially enhanced the threat of stroke and heart assault.

However, Dr. Wassersug sassist that, based on his study, the manner in which the drug is taken matters. Rather than take estrogen in pill develop, he provides a patch or gel - products that are popular with menopausal women.

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He has actually fewer side effects than many guys on ADT - fewer warm flashes, much less damage to the bones and, many important, fewer cognitive problems that he found horrible once on traditional LHRH agonists (drugs that cause chemical castration). The downside is pronounced gynecomastia, or breastern enlargement.

"Given an option between breasts and a brain," Dr. Wassersug said, "I go for the brain."