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John Ryder – Prostate Cancer Patient Story

Image of John.

John Ryder, 58, hadn’t been to a doctor in years when a close friend suffered a mild stroke in fall 2022. “When is the last time you had a physical?” his friend asked.

At his urging, John quickly scheduled a wellness exam.

“Until then, my attitude always had been: if it’s not broke, there’s no need to fix it,” says John, a Mercer, Pa., resident. “Luckily, I didn’t put it off any longer.”

As part of his physical, John’s doctor ordered routine bloodwork. Everything was good, except for one thing. His prostate specific antigen (PSA) level was a worrisome 6.78 mg/mL — an indicator of possible prostate cancer.

After a biopsy confirmed cancer, John began exploring treatment options and researching cancer specialists. His search ultimately led him to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Horizon–Shenango Valley in Farrell, Pa.

Confirming Tests and Biopsies

PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland. When there’s a problem with the prostate, PSA levels can rise above normal levels. Elevated PSA levels can be a sign of an enlarged prostate, inflammation, or prostate cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, men with a PSA level between 4 and 10 mg/mL have a one in four chance of having prostate cancer. Additional testing is usually done to determine what’s going on.

In John’s case, after his initial PSA rise in mid-2022, a biopsy was performed and came back negative. His PSA continued to be monitored and he had a prostate MRI, which also came back negative. John’s PSA began to rise again in mid-2023, which prompted a prostate core needle biopsy performed in summer 2023. The result: It was positive for cancer.

Taking a Proactive Approach

With a diagnosis in hand, John’s next step was deciding what treatment to pursue. He initially met with William Eric Spielvogle, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Horizon–Shenango Valley.

Dr. Spielvogle confirmed that the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the prostate. After speaking with John, Dr. Spielvogle referred him to Uzoma Iheagwara MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist and clinical director, radiation oncology, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at UPMC Horizon–Shenango Valley. Dr. Iheagwara reviewed all of John’s treatment options, including:

  • Active surveillance (closer monitoring over time).
  • Surgery (to remove his prostate).
  • Radiation therapy (external beam, stereotactic body radiation therapy, or brachytherapy).

“I knew I didn’t want to waste any time,” says John. “I could have chosen active surveillance. But I figured if I have something, I might as well do something now.”

John decided against surgery, but he still wanted to be proactive with treatment. He elected to have low dose rate brachytherapy, given the convenience of the one-time, same-day procedure.

With brachytherapy (a form of internal radiation therapy), doctors place tiny radioactive seeds inside the prostate. The seeds emit radiation that destroys the cancer cells, sparing surrounding healthy tissue and organs.

Expert, Multidisciplinary Care

Dr. Iheagwara referred John to Peter Daloni, MD, a urologist at UPMC Horizon.

Both doctors were at John’s side when he had the brachytherapy procedure at UPMC Horizon in January 2024. During the three-hour procedure, 94 radioactive seeds were placed inside his prostate.

A follow-up test done a month later showed his PSA level dropped to 2.57 mg/mL, which is in the normal range.

“When I got those results, I called my wife right away,” says John. “My PSA level was never that low.”

John says he appreciated having doctors who listened to his concerns and took time to explain treatment options. He also praised his doctors and the staff at UPMC Horizon for the care he received. The nurses in the radiation oncology department were “especially helpful and exceptionally nice,” he added.

“I had confidence in them. I knew from my research that the doctors at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and UPMC Horizon were top notch,” says John. “Everything went smoothly. The care I received was excellent.”