How to handle a relapse after treatment for prostate cancer
Editor in Chief Marc B. Garnick, M.D., discusses what biochemical recurrence means and what your options are
"Am I going to die?" This is the first question a patient usually asks me when a follow-up blood test reveals that his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level has risen after he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer (usually a radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy). The fear is understandable: When PSA levels rise to a certain threshold after prostate cancer treatment, the patient has suffered what is known technically as a biochemical recurrence, sometimes also referred to as a biochemical relapse or stage D1.5 disease. Whatever term is used, it means that prostate cancer remains within the prostate after radiation therapy, that it survived outside the excised area after radical prostatectomy, or that it has reappeared in metastatic form in other tissues and organs. In most cases the cancer remains at a microscopic level, and many years will pass before any physical evidence of it is detectable on a clinical exam or any abnormalities are seen on a bone scan or CT scan.