On the Howard Stern Show earlier today, Ben Stiller publicly opened up about his June 2014 diagnosis with an “immediately aggressive” form of prostate cancer for the first time ever.
Stiller found a tumor that had been growing for five years with an earlier-than-usual Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test. He had surgery to remove his prostate just two months later and, by September, got word that he was cancer-free.
The 50-year-old Emmy-winner, who credits his survival to early detection, is now encouraging men to speak to their doctors about getting tested early. It’s the second most deadly cancer, he told Stern, but it’s one of the most curable.
“This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one. But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early.”
Stiller published a personal essay on Medium called, “The Prostate Cancer Test That Saved My Life,” giving more detail about his diagnosis and the test that he says is the reason he’s alive to write it.
“Right after I got the news, still trying to process the key words echoing dimly in my head (probability of survival–vival-vival-val… incontinence-nence-nence-ence…), I promptly got on my computer and Googled, ‘Men who had prostate cancer,’” he writes. “I had no idea what to do and needed to see some proof this was not the end of the world.”
He read about John Kerry, Joe Torre, Mandy Patinkin, Rober DeNiro, all “vital,” before doing one more search for “died of” in place of “had.”
About 180,000 men in America a year can identify with Stiller’s experience. He said his urologist’s voice had faded out like every movie or TV show about a man being told he had cancer—a classic Walter White moment, except he was himself and no one was filming.
“This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one,” Stiller writes. “But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early.”
The American Cancer Society recommends that men be tested at age 50. Stiller had his PSA test when he was 46, during an annual physical, even though he didn’t have a history of prostate cancer in his family and was not considered part of an at-risk group.
Stiller’s PSA levels continued to rise for two years, so his internist referred him to a urologist who ordered an MRI, which confirmed the presence of a tumor. If he had waited and followed the US Preventative Task Force guidelines, he’d not have known about his growing tumor until two years after he was treated—and he may not have survived.
“There has been a lot of controversy over the test in the last few years,” Stiller writes. “Articles and op-eds on whether it is safe, studies that seem to be interpreted in many different ways and debates about whether men should take it all. I am not offering a scientific point of view here, just a personal one, based on my experience.”
For more on Stiller’s experience, here’s a clip from his interview with Stern below: