General David Petraeus Treated for Prostate Cancer

It has been noted that the top US Commander for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, 56, has not been very vocal during the recent public debate on the future of the war efforts. We now know that this may be because the General has been dealing with prostate cancer since February and has undergone two rounds of radiation therapy. The cancer was found at an early stage, and the Pentagon reports that his treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was “successful.”

What is the prostate?
Theprostate is a walnut-sized gland between the rectum and anus of men.It’s function is to add fluid to support and nourish sperm in semen.The urethra, the tube through which urine flows out of the body passesthrough the prostate.


What is prostate cancer?

Prostatecancer is the number one cause of cancer (other than skin cancer) inAmerican men. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime,but only 1 man in 35 will die ofit. The incidence increases with age,and it is estimated that up to 80% of men may have prostate cancer byage 80, although many are asymptomatic and are more likely to die ofanother cause.
The vast majority of prostate cancers develop from the prostate gland cells, and is called adenocarcinoma. Most cases are asymptomatic in the initial phases, but later symptoms may include:

  • A need to urinate frequently, especially at night
  • Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine
  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Difficulty in having an erection
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.

Itshould be noted that these symptoms are not specific to prostate cancerand could also be due to other conditions; Benign prostatic hyperplasia(BPH) is a condition where the prostate gland enlarges, but no cancercells are present. Prostatitis, an infection of the prostate gland isanother possible cause. If these symptoms are present, then a workupmust be done to determine whether prostate cancer or one of these otherconditions is the cause.

Screening for prostate cancer isrecommended to find asymptomatic tumors at an early stage, especiallyin men over 50. This is done with a combination of a blood test calledPSA and with a digital rectal exam (DRE). PSA is a chemical produced bythe prostate gland. A small amount of blood is drawn from the arm andthe amount of PSA measured. Levels less than 4 ng/ml is considered”normal”, 4-10 ng/ml “intermediate”, and greater than 10 ng/ml “high.”It should be noted that a normal level does not mean that there is nocancer. Some studies suggest that obesity may artificially lower PSAlevels to “normal” levels, and elevated levels may be found innoncancerous situations such as BPH and prostatitis. This is why PSAlevels should be combined with a digital rectal exam (DRE). In a DRE, agloved finger is placed in the rectum to feel the prostate gland forenlargement or for any lumps that may be present. Suspicious findingwill lead to a biopsy of the prostate to get a definitive diagnosis.

For more information:

Prostate Cancer


Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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