Let's Talk – Ken's Prostate Cancer Journey

  • Category: Blog
  • Posted On:
Let's Talk – Ken's Prostate Cancer Journey

For many men it’s a tough topic, but ask any man who has suffered through it - is it worse to talk about it or deal with having it?

In his 40+ years of experience as a Pediatric Diabetes physician, Dr. Kenneth Copeland had to have tough medical conversations, but no doubt one of the hardest ever was talking about his own diagnosis of prostate cancer. 

A PSA Test Reveals More

The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. The health of the prostate is determined in part by a DRE or digital rectal exam and a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test.

“I was a really, really good patient when it came to preventive care. I believe in preventive care. I preached it and I believe it,” Dr. Copeland avows.

At 70 and just retired, part of his routine care was the PSA test. “My digital exam was always normal. If it wasn’t for the PSA screening, I’d be dead now,” Dr. Copeland said without hesitation.

Routine PSA testing showed elevated levels and led Dr. Copeland to further testing. A biopsy and MRI diagnosed his very aggressive type of cancer and showed that it had spread outside the prostate gland. It had to be treated fast.

Once the healer, now the patient, Dr. Copeland came under the treatment of Michael Cookson, M.D., Urological Oncologist, and Tyler Gunter, M.D., Radiation Oncologist at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

Innovation At Work

Dr. Cookson performed the robotic surgery to remove the prostate and cancerous lesions. Via computer, he used the robot arms for the incisions, camera placement and surgical tools. Robotic prostate removal surgery is performed through the stomach.

Stephenson Cancer Center is Oklahoma’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Cancer Center and is a leader in research and innovative care – like using robots for surgeries. With robotic surgery, patients can often have a shorter hospital stay and recover more quickly when compared with traditional open surgery. Patients have less blood loss and less pain, too.

For Dr. Copeland’s aggressive cancer, a multi-modality treatment approach was prescribed.

Dr. Copeland received external beam radiation therapy -- specifically intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This type of therapy uses a machine called a linear accelerator (Linac) to non-invasively deliver high-energy x-rays to a part of the body.

“Combined with the surgery, radiation decreases the chances of recurrence,” Dr. Gunter explained. “The goal of radiation is to deliver a high dose of radiation to kill cancer cells, while limiting damage to normal tissue. IMRT uses multiple x-ray beams that overlap in the area where the prostate was before surgery, and where residual cancer cells are likely to reside. This allows us to target the cancer more precisely, limiting collateral damage to nearby critical organs.”

Dr. Gunter explained that radiation basically works by causing damage to DNA, eventually resulting in cell death once these cells try to replicate. Cancer cells are less efficient in repairing this DNA damage, making them more sensitive to the effects of radiation than normal, noncancerous cells.

In addition to radiation therapy, Dr. Copeland received hormone therapy, also called androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). This therapy reduces levels of male hormones, called androgens, to stop them from fueling prostate cancer cells.

It's Worth It

“Now, two years after my surgery I’ve still got undetectable cancer,” Dr. Copeland said with a smile. “I’m doing really, really well. I’m still consulting, doing some gardening, walking and golfing. I’ve been given an incredible gift of extra time. I’m very, very, thankful for it.”

National Comprehensive Cancer Network prostate cancer guidelines recommend discussing screening with your doctor starting at age 45. You may need prostate cancer screening at age 40 if you have at least one first-degree relative (such as your father or brother) who has had prostate cancer, have at least two extended family members who have had prostate cancer, or are African American, an ethnicity that is at higher risk of developing more aggressive cancers

What does Dr. Copeland have to say to every man about prostate cancer testing? “Just do it. It could be worth your life.”

Let's Talk 

Watch more about Ken's story and learn about prostate cancer treatment at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center. If you need help scheduling a DRE or PSA blood test, talk to your doctor or read more about our men's health services.

OU Health experts recommends routine screening primarily for men from 55 to 69 years of age, assuming the absence of other risk factors. Talk to your doctor, schedule an exam, and learn more about prostate cancer screening.