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Sixteen years ago, Greg Valliere’s brother was diagnosed and successfully treated for prostate cancer. For Greg, it was a big wake up call.
“I knew it made me more likely to develop the disease, so I started having my PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels checked every year during my annual physical,” he says. “Everything was fine until the fall of 2023, when my numbers started going up.”
Greg and his doctor agreed to a conservative strategy of “watchful waiting” before doing any invasive testing to see if his numbers continued to rise or he developed any symptoms. “I was aware that prostate cancer normally grows very slowly in older men, and I was 73 at the time, so I wasn’t overly concerned,” he says.
Unfortunately, by his next PSA test, just after the holidays, his score had risen to 9. A PSA score of 8, 9, or 10 typically indicates a high-grade cancer.
“I made an appointment with Edward Dunne, Jr., MD, a urologist in private practice who is on the clinical staff at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. A biopsy confirmed that I had a very aggressive form of cancer,” Greg says. “He urged me to move forward with treatment as soon as possible and referred me to Jonathan Hwang, MD, chair of Urology, Urologic Oncology, and Robotic Prostatectomy at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.”
Dr. Hwang specializes in minimally invasive robotic surgery using the da Vinci® robotic surgical system and has performed over 3,500 robotic prostatectomies, more than any other urologic surgeon in the Delaware-Maryland-Virginia region.
“I had a long chat with Dr. Hwang, and he explained what my options were…radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery. He was very honest, explaining that there were no guarantees in terms of which treatment would work best for me due to the aggressive nature of my cancer,” Greg notes. “I work 60 to 70 hours per week as an investment writer and my work takes me all over the country, so I did not want to deal with the challenges of adjusting my schedule to get to appointments for radiation or chemotherapy or the side effects that come with those treatments.” He opted for a robotic prostatectomy.
“In the past we would not perform prostatectomies on men over 70. But with the advanced robotic technology we have today, we can now improve the outlook for most men of any age through a minimally invasive procedure that minimizes the risk of the side effects that can occur with other types of procedures,” says Dr. Hwang. “Given Greg’s excellent health, we agreed that surgical removal was his best option.”
A robotic prostatectomy is performed through small incisions in the abdomen, where the surgeon inserts tiny instruments. The robot’s movements mimic the human wrist but with greater dexterity, and its small camera provides a 3-D, magnified view of the prostate and surrounding tissue. Using a console to guide these instruments with extreme precision, the surgeon removes the prostate with minimal disruption to the surrounding healthy nerves and tissue that support normal urination and erection.
“The introduction of the 5th generation da Vinci system, which is more versatile, has greater functionality, and enables us to be more efficient, has improved outcomes even more,” Dr. Hwang notes.
Greg had his surgery on June 2, 2023, just a few weeks after his first appointment with Dr. Hwang. “Other than a little soreness for a few days after surgery, I felt fine. But the best news is that my PSA levels were undetectable several weeks after the procedure, which meant I didn’t need any additional treatment,” Greg adds.
“Dr. Hwang is great. When I had a question, he always got back to me very quickly, and while he didn’t sugarcoat anything, he was always reassuring. The experience was very stressful, especially when I was first diagnosed, and Dr. Hwang led me down the path to treatment. He absolutely saved my life!” he says.
I would highly recommend Dr. Hwang to any man diagnosed with prostate cancer. I have also become a strong advocate for the importance having a PSA test once a man reaches the age of 45, particularly men who have a family history of prostate cancer.”