When Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Francisco, first had radioactive seeds implanted in his prostate gland to treat his early-stage cancer, he faced a side effect he didn’t anticipate: his grandkids couldn’t sit in his lap.
Three years later, Mullin’s doctors have declared him free of prostate cancer, giving him many more years to spend with his grandchildren. Now, he’s using some of that time to put on his "regular guy" hat and urge other middle-aged men to have regular blood tests and prostate checkups to make sure any signs of the disease are caught — and treated — early.
"At its most treatable stage, prostate cancer usually shows no symptoms," said Mullin’s doctor, Steve Workman, at a press conference at the Kaiser Medical Center in South San Francisco on Tuesday. "By the time it’s noticeable, the treatment is successful as often as not."
Mullin discovered that his prostate-specific antigen levels were raised when undergoing routine blood tests for a problem with his eyes in 2003. His diagnosis led him to learn he was a candidate for brachytherapy, in which radioactive seeds are placed inside the prostate to halt cancerous growth. Brachytherapy has a success rate of approximately 95 percent.
The side effects — which can include some urinary discomfort — were minor enough that the former South City mayor could return to work almost immediately.
Most men have a 10 percent to 15 percent chance of developing prostate cancer in theirlifetime, but rates are higher among men whose family members also have the disease, and also among African-American men, Workman said. More than 22,000 Californians were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004, the same year 2,900 men died from the disease.
Mullin’s campaign includes sending some 52,000 pamphlets to men his age across the Peninsula this week.
"My experience was so positive, and I am the prototypical person who gets prostate cancer," Mullin said. "So I decided to be public about it."