Regular prostate screenings catch cancer recurrence early

Minnesota farmer Larry Eichstadt got care close to his home and cattle

Farmer and cancer survivor Larry Eichstadt feeds a bottle of milk to a cow in a pen on his farm.

Larry Eichstadt’s persistence with regular preventive screenings helped his doctors detect his prostate cancer early, helping him successfully battle a form of cancer that’s one of the most common among men.

Each year after his screening, Eichstadt would schedule the next one and say, “How about we just do it. It’s no big deal and I don’t mind doing it.” This attitude paid off in the form of an early diagnosis after almost a decade with no signs of cancer.

Learn more: Cancer screenings at Sanford Health

Eichstadt raises livestock near Jeffers, Minnesota. He’s been farming since he was old enough to help his dad, and today he lives with his wife, Janel, just a mile away from where he grew up.

During a physical when he was 52 years old, Eichstadt had a blood test to check his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Over time, they started to increase. When they reached 3.2, his doctor recommended a biopsy.

In the body, PSA is a protein produced by normal, as well as malignant, cells of the prostate gland. Since PSA levels are often higher in men with prostate cancer, many doctors recommend annual PSA tests for men starting in their 50s.

Eichstadt waited a month before getting his biopsy test results back. Out of 12 samples taken, 11 were normal, but the last one showed signs of cancer.

Reducing his cancer risk

Because of factors such as his age and overall health, David Rosinsky, M.D., a urologist at Urology Specialists, recommended removing Eichstadt’s prostate to reduce the risk of further cancer growth. In 2005, Eichstadt had surgery with no complications at Sanford Health.

He continued doing his annual PSA test and after five years with no changes, it was good indicator he was cancer-free. But Eichstadt didn’t stop doing screenings and in 2012, his PSA levels started to slowly increase again. Dr. Rosinsky didn’t like the signs.

“It raises a red flag,” said Dr. Rosinsky. “PSA levels should go to zero after surgery and when they start to increase that means some of the prostate cancer cells have started to grow.”

The news made Eichstadt nervous for what could come next, but he wasn’t scared.

“I put it on God’s hands,” he said. “He’s the only one who can heal me. If it isn’t his will, so be it.”

The next step

For treatment consultation, Eichstadt visited Jae Yoon, M.D., a specialist in radiation oncology at Sanford Health in Worthington, Minnesota. After an MRI and bone scan, Dr. Yoon recommended radiation therapy as a next step.

Because Eichstadt already had a prostectomy, Dr. Yoon wanted to avoid further surgery. And thanks to early detection, Eichstadt’s prostate cancer hadn’t spread and was slow growing.

“If we believe the cancer has recurred locally in the pelvis, radiation therapy is recommended for a cure,” Dr. Yoon said. “Oftentimes, we recommend hormonal therapy along with radiation therapy depending on the stage of the prostate cancer.”

Eichstadt started his radiation treatment at Sanford Health Cancer Center in Worthington, going Monday through Friday.

“I took (Janel) along with me the first time and I set my route: Hwy 62 over to Fulda, straight in, take the second stoplight, hang a right and pull in,” Eichstadt said.

That was the way he took 37 times to complete treatment. When he needed help caring for his livestock, friends would pitch in and help.

“You think, ‘How am I going to get this or that done?’ But the good Lord always has help. It’s hard to explain, but it’s true,” he said.

During his treatments, Eichstadt made new friends, too. The nursing staff who assisted him became well versed in his cattle and farm activities. And although each treatment was tough, on his last day at the clinic he knew he was going to miss the staff that had become like family.

“You’re not disappointed that you’re not going back to a cancer center for treatment, but you really get attached to those people,” he said.

Surviving cancer

Last summer, Eichstadt did another PSA test and the results came back 0.04, the lowest amount the machine can detect. That makes him a cancer survivor.

Eichstadt’s now does a PSA test every six months and never misses an appointment.

“I figure it’s better to go in and get it done,” he said.

His persistence and faith throughout his cancer journey mirrors how he approaches the challenges that come with raising livestock. Living out these traits is exactly what he plans to continue doing as a livestock owner, farmer and now a cancer survivor.

“I won’t give up on life,” Eichstadt said. “This may sound silly, but I feel that if God trusts me to take care of his creation, then I’d better give it 110 percent every day.”

More stories

This is the latest in a series called “We’re In This Together,” videos and stories from everyday patients going through cancer treatment at Sanford Health. Get an idea of what to expect from cancer survivorship — follow along to their appointments, and see a glimpse of the support in their lives.

Posted In Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Worthington

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