Chance PSA Test Leads to Cancer Diagnosis

As an experienced emergency and sports medicine physician, Joseph Waeckerle, MD, doesn’t take risks with his patients’ health.

When it came to his personal health, however, he wasn’t as vigilant. At age 60, Dr. Waeckerle had his first PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. He asked for the test almost as an afterthought and was soon after diagnosed with prostate cancer.

With daily exercise, no family history of cancer and demanding work weeks lasting 80 to 100 hours, Dr. Waeckerle said he never thought about prostate cancer.

“I was a typical physician, too busy working,” he said. “It did not even cross my mind.”

A random sequence of events, or so it seemed, prompted Dr. Waeckerle to request a PSA.

Taking no chances
Dr. Waeckerle directed search and rescue efforts at the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in July 1981. From that experience, he became a leading authority on disaster response and domestic preparedness, traveling to Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Mexico, Russia and the Far East. He lectures around the world about disaster medicine, educating organizations about anti-terrorism and disaster preparedness.

While traveling in Africa, India and Southeast Asia on behalf of the FBI, Dr. Waeckerle first sensed something was wrong with his health. He knew to be careful about what he ate and drank while traveling, but developed dysentery that persisted once he returned home. On the recommendation of his doctor, he had a CT scan, which revealed kidney cancer. He would need surgery.

Dr. Waeckerle was referred to J. Brantley Thrasher, MD, who specializes in urologic cancer surgery at The University of Kansas Hospital. Prior to seeing Dr. Thrasher, Dr. Waeckerle sought the counsel of colleagues around the country to ensure he would be receiving the best surgical care.

“I have contacts at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Sloan Kettering and MD Anderson, so I called all of them,” Dr. Waeckerle said. “Each one said Dr. Thrasher is one of the best in the country. That convinced me to put my care and wellbeing in his hands.”

Impromptu PSA
Before surgery to remove the diseased kidney, Dr. Waeckerle requested a PSA – his first – as part of a routine blood draw. After surgery, Dr. Thrasher came back with good news and bad news.

“He told me my renal (kidney) cell carcinoma was small and they got it all, but that I had an elevated PSA and he needed to check my prostate,” Dr. Waeckerle recalled. “I had a biopsy, it came back positive and six months later I had prostate surgery.”

Dr. Thrasher performed a robotic prostatectomy to remove Dr. Waeckerle’s prostate. The cancer was contained, but Dr. Waeckerle also received chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He sees Dr. Thrasher annually for follow-ups.

“With no family history of cancer, the whole experience was serendipity,” Dr. Waeckerle said. “Cancer was discovered in my kidney by accident and then in my prostate because of my kidney. I credit Dr. Thrasher. Dr. Thrasher is an exceptional man and an exceptional physician and surgeon.”


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