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As a 30-year veteran of the Philadelphia police force, Al Martin was used to facing risks on a day-to-day basis. But what caught him by surprise was a diagnosis of prostate cancer at the age of 54.
An elevated PSA level raised a red flag.
The Holmesburg native was vigilant about getting annual physicals with his family doctor. In October 2009, his blood test came back showing his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test reading at 18. "I didn't know what that meant," he said.
His wife Susan, a nurse, understood exactly what it meant. A raised PSA level in the blood can indicate cancer. Al was given another blood test and a digital rectal examination, along with a biopsy to see if the growths on his prostate were cancerous. The week before Christmas, Al was told he had prostate cancer. "It was a scary proposition," he said.
At his wife's suggestion, Al came to Fox Chase Cancer Center to consult with Rosalia Viterbo, MD, a surgical oncologist who completed her fellowship in robotic oncology at City of Hope National Medical Center. She has successfully performed more than 1,000 minimally invasive robotic prostatectomies.
After robotic surgery at Fox Chase, Al returned to work in just over a month.
On January 12, 2010, Al underwent a successful prostatectomy. Because the disease was identified in its early stages, no other treatment was necessary. The retired police captain, who now works as an investigator with the state Office of Inspector General's bureau of fraud prevention and prosecution, was back to work in 5 weeks time.
"Dr. Viterbo is a fabulous surgeon. I'm very thankful for her skill and ability."
Al still sees the doctor regularly for follow up check ups and blood work. "Dr. Viterbo is a fabulous surgeon," he said. "She's a lifesaver. I'm very thankful for her skill and ability. Everyone at Fox Chase made a bad event in my life into a tolerable experience. You're really in shock in the beginning, and all the personnel, from the intake staff to pre-op, were very sensitive to what I was going through."
These days, Al, who turned 55 in 2010, is more careful about his diet and fairly religious about exercising. He regularly walks around the 2.5 mile track at Abraham Lincoln High School. When he's at the Jersey shore, he and his wife ride bicycles from Anglesea to Cape May, a 14-mile round trip. Having experienced prostate cancer himself, he urges all men who visit a doctor to request that any blood test include a check for signs of prostate cancer. He made sure his own 6 older brothers got tested, and one was actually diagnosed with the disease.
Al urges others to request a PSA test.
"Ask for a PSA," he said. "The earlier the detection, the better."