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Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement on Wednesday of an early prostate cancer diagnosis — and his anticipated treatment following a well-earned vacation with his family — spotlights the need for each of us to be well informed about health issues as we age.

By working with physicians and reading and becoming informed about health issues, we can each make lifestyle, preventative and healthy decisions that suit our value system and our goals for a long, happy life.

When it comes to medical testing of any type, a number of factors come into play. There are pros and cons to all testing, including the testing to detect prostate cancer.

At the end of the day, these decisions are incredibly personal ones. But we can’t make them unless we are informed.

That’s why Wolf’s diagnosis is a reminder that taking care of our basic health – choosing a lifestyle that promotes wellness – is the first step in accepting responsibility for our longevity.

Two tests are used to detect prostate cancer: a digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and American Urologic Association (AUA) recommend a discussion between the doctor and patient about the pros and cons of PSA tests. The ACS recommends discussions begin between physician and patient when the patient is 50 years old for men with an average risk of prostate cancer and 40 to 45 for those with higher risk (such as family history of prostate cancer).

PSA levels in blood are higher if there is prostate cancer, so it’s a good tool to detect early prostate cancer. There are other reasons that PSA levels can be high, including infection or inflammation in the prostate or from an enlarged prostate.

In Wolf’s case, tests to confirm the diagnosis started in late November, the governor said during a live-stream news conference Wednesday. Two weeks ago, he got the final confirmation he does, indeed, have prostate cancer.

"It was detected early," Wolf said. "Prostate cancer is something that older men get. A lot of men die with it, but not a lot die because of it."

Wolf said that he has had regular checkups and chose to be tested regularly.  For him, his decisions led to his advocacy, even as he is facing the challenges associated with working a stressful job and undergoing monthslong treatment.

There are a number of options for treatment and, like all health decisions, they can vary greatly from patient to patient. Treatment decisions can be made based on a number of factors including other health issues, the severity of the cancer and personal feelings, morals and values.

For his part, Wolf encouraged Pennsylvanians to schedule regular checkups with their doctor because a routine checkup helped with the early detection of his cancer.

His message was clear:

"Whoever you are, whatever you're going through, regular checkups matter," Wolf said.

Individual health is a personal and vital issue. That’s why being your own best advocate and being well informed and proactive in all matters of health and well-being is the key.

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