A grandfather's battle with prostate cancer

PHOTO: A grandfather's battle with prostate cancer

For the last 10 years, his life has been up and down. He had bad news, then good news. And then, he got bad news again.

Life was never the same again for Alor Star-born engineer Teoh Chin Poon when he found out he had prostate cancer in 2002.

He was 58 and had just retired from his job in Kuala Lumpur. Instead of enjoying life, he was in and out of hospital for chemotherapy to fight the cancer which was already at stage three.

It was not detected earlier because Teoh had no symptoms unlike his brother-in-law, who found out early and had since recovered, he says.

"I went for tests and found out that my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was high. I took more tests and learnt that I had cancer at an advanced stage," he recalls.

"I went for radiotherapy treatments for six weeks to kill the cancer cells. The outcome was good. My PSA dropped and for seven years, I was fine and I could play golf."

PSA is a substance produced by the prostate gland. High PSA levels can indicate prostate cancer or a non-cancerous condition like an inflamed or enlarged prostate.

Men with prostate cancer often have PSA levels higher than four although cancer is possible at any PSA level.

Teoh's life went on. He continued hormone therapy to prevent the prostate cancer cells from growing but his problem came back. His PSA level went up again to 10.

He started chemotherapy again but his PSA level continued to go up and down. There were times when it hit above 80.

In August last year, he went to Gleneagles Medical Centre in Penang for treatment and things began to take a positive turn.

There was a new chemotherapy drug to fight advanced prostate cancer that had the approval of both United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission. Teoh became the first person here to use it last September.

After 11 courses of the drug, his PSA level was stable. It was at 20 but it stopped going up and down. His illness became more manageable and he began to feel and look healthier.

"My weight went up 10kg. I am back to my regular weight of 66kg now. My appetite is back. The biggest difference is that I have a full head of hair now," quips the grandfather of one, adding that he is now well enough to take hour-long afternoon walks daily.

Teoh used to vomit and feel very tired after every course of chemotherapy in Kuala Lumpur. He also had trouble passing urine and would wake up several times each night to go to the toilet.

Better days


With the new treatment, he has none of those problems now, he says.

"I never felt pain or nausea during and after the treatments. I could even drive myself home afterwards. I only had to stay away from crowded places and people with the flu, as advised by my doctor because my white blood cells would be low after the treatment," he says.

Although he still needs to continue his chemotherapy treatment, Teoh remains positive and advises others not to worry too much if they have prostate cancer.

"I was diagnosed with stage three prostate cancer but I never gave up, not even once. There is no need to panic or worry. Just go to a hospital and see a doctor," he says.

Gleneagles Medical Centre consultant radiotherapist and oncologist Datuk Dr Adel Zaatar says another four prostate cancer patients took part in the study to test the drug here and all had reacted well to the treatment.

He says when Teoh agreed to try out the drug, the deal was to have him take 10 courses but with the encouraging results, it was decided that he should continue.

Dr Adel said the treatment can improve a patient's chance to live longer, as shown in studies on prostate cancer sufferers taking the drug and those who did not.

"Although the improvement was only four to six months, the drug gives patients the chance to live quality lives and enjoy their lifestyles, as Teoh has proven," he says, adding that though the new chemotherapy option is expensive, it is cheaper here compared to other countries like Singapore.

On preventing prostate cancer, Dr Adel says there is nothing anyone can do to change risk factors such as gender and family genetics.

What men can do, he says, is to change the way they live by eating less fatty food, red meat and processed food, eating five or more servings of vegetables and fruit daily and exercising to maintain a desirable body weight.

At a glance

Prostate cancer is caused by genetic mutations in the prostate cells that become cancerous and can spread from the prostate to other parts of the body like the bone, lymph-nodes or other organs. The illness tends to develop in men over the age of 50.

It is the second most common cancer in men worldwide, recording nearly one million cases and some 258,000 deaths in 2008. It is estimated that by 2030, the number of cases would be about 1.7 million.

Cases are highest in Australia, New Zealand, western and northern Europe, and North America. Asia has the lowest number of cases although they are expected to go up.