Tony Riley considers it a stroke of luck that he found himself being tested for prostate cancer in the spring of 2008.
Riley falls into the highest risk category for prostate cancer: African-American men with a family history of the disease. His father and oldest brother had both been diagnosed with the disease, but Riley had recently lost his health insurance and stopped getting regular screening exams.
“I knew I was at increased risk, but when you don’t have insurance and you feel healthy it’s easy to convince yourself you don’t need to go in as frequently,” recalls Riley, a well-known jazz drummer and lay worker with the Franciscan Friars.
“In my heart, I knew it was better to be cautious and find the problem early than live in fear of finding out when it’s too late to do anything about it.”
Then one day, longtime friend and fellow St. Mark’s Church congregation member Herschel Chalk spoke about a free prostate cancer screening program offered by the UC Barrett Cancer Center at University Hospital and encouraged men to take advantage of the service.
Led by William Barrett, MD, the mobile screening program provides free prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests to men living in traditionally low-income, urban neighborhoods who may not have access to regular health care.
PSA is a substance released into the bloodstream from the male prostate gland. While low levels of the substance may be found in healthy men, elevated levels often indicate prostate cancer. When detected in an early stage, prostate is one of the most curable types of cancer.
Still, the American Cancer Society estimates that at least 186,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, while 28,000 die from it.
“It seemed like a no-brainer to me. This was a way for me to get screened—and have peace of mind—at no charge. What a blessing!” says Riley, a resident of Pleasant Ridge.
As part of the program, each screening participant receives a PSA test and physical examination. Letters explaining test results and any recommended follow-up actions are sent to each patient’s home and family physician.
Men who have a rising PSA (greater than 4.0) are encouraged to see their family physician or a urologist for further testing. Elevated PSA can be an indicator of prostate cancer or something else, such as an enlarged prostate.
Since the program’s inception in 2003, Barrett’s team has screened more than 1,000 men. Of those screened, more than 6 percent have had elevated PSA levels that required further testing. Riley was one of those men.
“I was so thankful that they caught my cancer early, and I took immediate steps to start the treatment I needed to let me get on with my life,” recalls Riley. “I’m also thankful for the prayers of people in my St. Mark’s Church family and day job at St. Anthony Messenger Press and the support of my loving wife, Jacqueline.”
Riley was treated with a combination of external radiation therapy and brachytherapy, radiation seeds that are implanted into the prostate gland. As a result of treatment, Riley’s PSA has dropped.
“Now everyone I know has to hear me preach about the importance of early detection,” Riley says proudly. “It’s far too important of a topic to stay quiet about. You only get one life, and making your health a priority is a must.”
Free Prostate Cancer Screenings Available The UC mobile prostate cancer screening team offers free screenings every Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. at the following locations: • Second and Fourth Saturdays—Jordan’s Crossing in Bond Hill • First Saturday—Swifton Kroger in Bond Hill • Third Saturday—University Plaza Kroger in Corryville