PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. - Karl Lutz, 51, of Peachtree City, says the story of how he discovered he might be at risk of prostate cancer, begins with a blood test that he never set out to get.
"Because I had absolutely no symptoms," Lutz says. "Zero symptoms."
Lutz, married with two children, went in for a checkup two years ago at 49, concerned about his family's history of heart disease. Getting a blood test to measure his P-S-A level, wasn't even on his radar screen.
"The only reason I got mine checked was that I happened to be in the doctor's office, and he mentioned it, and encouraged me right there on the spot to go ahead and do it," Lutz remembers. "If I'd thought about it, I probably never would have planned a visit to come get it checked. You know what I'm saying?"
So, Lutz got a his PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, level checked that day.
"PSA is just a blood test," says Georgia Urology urologist Dr. Scott Miller, who works with an organization known as ProstAware. "And it's a protein that all men have that have a prostate, at a certain level."
Dr. Miller says many things can elevate a man's PSA level, like getting older, inflammation, an enlarged prostate gland, or even an infection. So, Miller cautions, an elevated PSA level does not mean a man has cancer. The two main risk factors for prostate cancer are being African American man, and having a family history of prostate cancer. But, because most men don't know their family's medical history, Dr. Miller recommends a baseline PSA check for men in their 40's. Other experts recommend men begin talking to their doctor about their risk for prostate cancer, and when to get tested, around 50. There is no "normal" or "abnormal" PSA level.
"If it's far below a 1.0, then that patient has a very low likelihood of developing prostate cancer sometimes in the next 10 years," Miller says. "Whereas, if they're in their mid 40's and their prostate is approaching 2.0, that patient needs to be followed closely."
Lutz's first PSA level was high, over 4.0. So, they repeated the test several times, checking it again.
"And what it would do is fluctuate," says Lutz. "But, it would stay at that level, 4.2 to 3.5. And it stayed there for 24 months, actually."
Then, when they checked his PSA level one more time, it had jumped to nearly 5.0.
"At that point, I decided it was time to get a biopsy done," Lutz says.
Dr. Miller says it's important to track PSA levels over time.
"We often repeat the blood test," he says. "We see what risk factors that patient has. Is it appropriate for their age?"
Because half of Karl Lutz's biopsied tissue samples were positive for cancer, and imaging tests showed the cancer was right on the edge of his prostate gland, in February of 2017, he underwent robot-assisted surgery with Dr. Miller to remove his prostate gland.
"I read all these stories about the side effects, which I know they're there, because people experience them," Lutz says. "But, I'm going to tell you something, after 6 or 7 weeks, no side effects whatsoever. Everything works correctly."
Karl Lutz says he's glad he took his doctor's recommendation and got tested. He's now cancer-free, and his life is once again back on track.