Prostate cancer screening made all the difference

Election Day, November 4, 2004, was the day Harold Stafford tested positive for prostate cancer. At 56 years old, Harold tried to wrap his head around what the diagnosis meant for him and his family.

Even in his retirement, Harold, retired Secretary of Labor for the State of Delaware, remains busier than most. The doting husband and father of three serves as interim chairman of the Health Resources Board, is on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and is an adjunct professor at Wilmington University. He was determined not to let a cancer diagnosis slow him down.

It was during a routine prostate screening with Michael Zaragoza, MD, at Urology Associates of Dover when Harold’s test read abnormal and raised some flags. After more testing that produced abnormal results, a biopsy was performed.

“When the biopsy came back as positive for cancer, I was stunned,” said Harold. “I have always taken care of myself. I don’t smoke or drink. I stay active and physically fit. I couldn’t help but think how in the world this could have happened.”

“There are high risk factors that typically increase a person’s chances for developing prostate cancer,” explained Dr. Zaragoza. “One is family history and the other is being an African American male.” Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.

Prostate cancer develops when cells in the prostate reproduce more rapidly than normal, resulting in a tumor. Most prostate cancers grow slowly and men don’t feel any noticeable changes in their health, which makes screening the only form of detection.

Dr. Zaragoza (pictured on left) met with Harold and his wife “V” to discuss the options and develop a care plan. After doing a lot of reading, researching, and speaking to friends about the diagnosis, Harold made the decision to have his prostate surgically removed. Now more than 10 years after his diagnosis, Harold remains cancer free and is an advocate for routine prostate cancer screenings.

“Proper screening plays an important role in the early detection of prostate cancer,” said Dr. Zaragoza. “Catching it early means the difference between being able to treat the disease and not detecting it until cancer has spread throughout your body. When cancer is found early, before it has a chance to grow, it significantly increases your survival rate.”

Dr. Zaragoza finds that men simply aren’t comfortable talking about the subject of prostate cancer, but he encourages them to get the screening no matter how awkward it makes them feel. “Men between the ages of 40 and 49 should speak to their doctor about beginning regular prostate screenings,” recommended Dr. Zaragoza. “Men age 50 and older should be screened annually.”

“My cancer was detected early because of my regular checkups,” said Harold. “Early detection was the key in saving my life.”

Harold now volunteers with Dr. Zaragoza for the Delaware Prostate Cancer Coalition. They work to help men become more aware of the importance of regular screenings. “When I was diagnosed I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be around to care for my family and see my children grow up,” recalled Harold. “I want to make sure that I am around to see my grandchildren grow up as well. This is why I am so vigilant about my own health and bringing awareness to this disease.

Organizations throughout the country have developed creative ways to spread awareness. The Movember Foundation created a campaign of growing mustaches during the month of November to help raise funds and spread awareness about men’s health, specifically prostate cancer.

Locally, the Delaware Prostate Cancer Coalition holds community events such as Pints for Prostates and Pedal Away Prostate Cancer to spread awareness. Pedal Away Prostate Cancer is an annual 25-mile bike race. This year it is being held on Sept. 19 at Eden Hill Medical Center in Dover. Go to BikeReg.com and enter “Pedal Away Prostate Cancer” to register.

“Our main goal is to reach those who are high risk. We still see patients who didn’t get screened early, and by the time they seek care, the disease has spread. We want to prevent this,” said Dr. Zaragoza.

To make an appointment at Urology Associates of Delaware, call 302-736-1320. For a complete listing of medical providers who offer prostate cancer screening services, call the physician referral service line at 1-866-Bay-Docs. To learn more about prostate cancer screenings and treatments, go to bayhealth.org/prostate.