PROFESSOR Roger Kirby is one of the world’s leading prostate surgeons. So when he developed prostate cancer last year he knew exactly what he was up against. He tells Simon Garfield about his operation – and life as a patient
The scenery was truly breathtaking. In March 2012, 47 cyclists had negotiated a 27km climb to the Puyehue Pass on the border of Chile and Argentina, passing forests and mountains, hot springs and glacial melt-water. At the summit one of them spotted a circling Andean vulture and joked that it might be a grim omen. Others noticed that one of their most experienced riders was looking distinctly grey. Roger Kirby, a 62-year-old professor of urology, was taking part to raise money for the Urology Foundation. He had been on similar rides in Malawi and Madagascar and prided himself on his ability to keep up with younger riders, but now he felt breathless. His father had died of a stroke following heart failure at the age of 49, and ever since he had been wary of the weight of genetics. So he resolved to have a cardiac check and some blood tests as soon as he returned to England.
The heart exam showed a little calcifying in the arteries, something fairly typical in men of his age, and the blood tests showed another common male attribute: a raised level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). PSA produces the liquefying component of semen, and may ease the passage of sperm within the uterus. It is a vital protein for conception, but when it enters the bloodstream in increasing amounts it may also indicate the growth of prostate cancer.
Kirby had monitored his PSA level for more than a decade. At 50, it stood at 0.5, which was negligible. But it had risen gradually over the years to 1.5 and then 3.3, which he regarded as a light flashing on the dashboard. Two weeks after getting back from South America, he took a second PSA test and found it had gone down a little, which reassured him. Six months later, in September, he had another test and it was 4.3, the highest it had ever been, so he underwent a high-resolution localised MRI scan.
The news wasn’t good. There was a lesion on the right side, which his radiologist thought could be one of two things: prostatitis, an inflammation treatable with antibiotics, or a tumour. And so a biopsy was ordered, involving a local anaesthetic and a probe, and the removal of 12 samples from the suspicious area….Read More