It was just an average Monday night for 74-year-old Doug Bliss. The bus driver from East Anglia was out walking his dog a fortnight before Christmas in 2015. Then trouble hit. Doug recalled: “Whilst walking, I thought to myself, I need to go to the toilet, but then I just couldn’t hold myself. It was strange to me as I’ve been fairly fit my whole life, and I’ve never had to go to the hospital before.”
Not wanting to take any chances, Dough phoned his GP the following morning and explained his symptoms, who then referred him to the urology department at the local hospital, Whipps Cross.
On Friday morning of that same week, he received a phone call from the hospital, and got an appointment for the following Tuesday to get checked.
“It was all very fast-paced, in less than a week I’d seen my GP and went to the hospital for scans.”
At the hospital, Doug had a PSA test – and his score came back relatively high at thirteen.
PSA scores higher than 10 have over 50 percent chance of being a positive indication of prostate cancer.
Following his PSA test, Doug returned to the hospital the next day to have an MRI scan, and two weeks later for a transrectal biopsy, where he described the biopsy as “not very comfortable”.
The biopsy came back within two weeks, but Doug explained that there were some issues with his results: “My biopsy didn’t match up with what the MRI scan showed. So they left it six weeks because they didn’t want to do another biopsy too soon in case of any damage, and then did a second biopsy where they took many more samples, which then matched up with my scan.”
Following his biopsy, Doug was then diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, because the cancer hadn’t spread outside of the prostate, and it was a fairly small tumour, the hospital initially recommended that he go on active surveillance.
This is a way of monitoring slow-growing localised prostate cancer, rather than treating it straight away.
However, a couple of weeks later, the oncology team started to discuss the available treatment options with Doug; and outlined radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery or brachytherapy.
Doug explained: “My options were explained well to me by the oncology unit, who gave me leaflets for each of the options for me to go home and read about, and discuss with my family.
“I opted for brachytherapy because I felt it was the least intrusive out of all the treatments, and I was adamant that I didn’t want my prostate removed. It was also important to me to have the ability to go back to normal life quickly.”
Around three months later, Doug had his LDR brachytherapy procedure whereby small radiotherapy seeds – about the size of a grain of rice – are inserted around the cancerous cells to eliminate them over a period of months.
“I went in at 8am, and I was out by 3pm. I was out cold for the treatment, but I didn’t have any pain when I woke up, and I was back at work the following day where I was delivering tires for a small local company at the time.”
Following his brachytherapy procedure, Doug had minimal side effects – such as having trouble going to the toilet. He was also taking Tamsulosin, and needed a catheter fitted for around fifteen months: “It wasn’t necessarily the operation that caused it, it was the drugs afterwards.”
Doug then had regular six months check-ups at the Royal London Hospital, and is now signed off by his GP. “I still have yearly PSA tests, and my last score was very low at 0.4, which I’m pleased with.”
Doug has come forward with his story to bust the taboo around men’s health and inspire others to get checked: “A lot of my friends are quite surprised with how well my prostate cancer treatment and the journey has gone, or how little I’ve moaned about it. I’ve always had a positive attitude, and when I was first diagnosed with it, I questioned myself – do I worry or not? But what’s the point in worrying if it’s not hurting me and I’m not in pain? It’s there, but it’s treatable. I wouldn’t put anyone against getting brachytherapy as it worked for me.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Professor Francis Chinegwundoh MBE, Consultant Urological Surgeon, underlined this point: “If we catch prostate cancer early, the outcomes in terms of overall survival are excellent. The only way we currently have to catch prostate cancer early is through the PSA blood test, because early prostate cancer often does not have any symptoms. If you leave it until you’re showing urinary symptoms, it can be too late and the outcomes may be worse. Black men are at twice the risk of white men of developing prostate cancer and are more likely to develop it at a younger age.
“The good news is that every man over the age of 50 is entitled to a PSA blood test; for black men this is 45+. Irrespective of race or colour, every man should get themselves tested once they hit the eligible age, and for those with a family history of prostate cancer, this is even more important. The PSA blood test is simple, inexpensive to the NHS and potentially life-saving.
With regard to treatment options, low dose rate (or seeds) brachytherapy is a good treatment. It is a fast procedure, typically a day treatment. A catheter is not required. It has an excellent long term success rate, easily on a par with having the prostate removed and with fewer side effects. For patients detected early with prostate cancer, brachytherapy is an excellent option.”