'It wasn't on my radar at all': Ben Stiller describes his shock at discovering 'aggressive' prostate cancer - and dealing with side effects after treatment

  • Ben Stiller, 50, is cancer-free after having surgery to remove prostate
  • He was diagnosed with an aggressive tumor in 2014 after a PSA test
  • The test is controversial for over-diagnosing harmless tumors
  • But Stiller insists it saved his life as he had no symptoms or family history
  • In an interview he opens up about side effects, tests, and treatment 

Ben Stiller has opened up about his battle with prostate cancer.

The 50-year-old actor had no symptoms and no specific family history of cancer when his doctor found an 'aggressive' tumor during a routine test in 2014.

After surgery to remove the prostate, Stiller is now cancer-free - and urging all men to get tested.

He admitted he does suffer some of the common side effects of a prostatectomy, which sometimes include incontinence and issues with sexual function.

But the actor - who has a son and a daughter with his wife, actress Christine Taylor - insists he will happily tolerate that over cancer.

'I was really fortunate that my course of treatment was basically an operation and that was it,' he told Today


'Doing great': Ben Stiller, 50, told Today that he does suffer some side effects after having a prostatectomy to remove an aggressive tumor in his prostate in 2014, but he'd rather live

'It's surreal. It's not something that I was really thinking about. It wasn't on my radar at all. 

'And if it wasn't for this test that we're going to talk about, I don't know if I would have had as easy a course of treatment or the prognosis that I did have.' 

Following the advice of his doctor, he underwent surgery to remove the prostate, a walnut-sized gland that sits below the bladder, around the urethra in men. 

Any operation in this area will, inevitably, lead to some nerve damage. 

However, issues have decreased with the advent of robot-assisted surgery - which Stiller had.  

And the actor says he had no qualms about shouldering some side effects in order to survive.

'When you're confronted with, "hey do you want to live or do you want to make sure your sex life is the best it could be?" I opted with wanting to get rid of the cancer and then see what happens, and luckily everything's cool.'  

Stiller first spoke out about his cancer battle last month, teaming up with prostate cancer awareness groups to raise awareness of the test called PSA (prostate-specific antigen).

In a poll cited by Today, 54 percent of American men did not know what a PSA was. 

But Stiller insists the PSA saved his life.

The exam involves a series of blood tests, which look for a protein produced by prostate-cancer cells.

'Every guy should go and get tested': Stiller, with his surgeon Dr Edward Schaeffer, urged all men to speak to their doctor about PSA tests, which test blood for proteins released by cancer

Stiller's doctor believes the tumor started growing in 2009. The actor started getting PSA tests in 2012 at the age of 46, and it was spotted in 2014.

He immediately underwent surgery, which cleared him of cancer. 

Stiller, who gave the interview alongside his surgeon Dr Edward Schaeffer, said men need to get clued up on the tests, the treatment options, and the doctors available.

'It's a whole new world, so you need to educate yourself,' he said. 'For me, it was learning what the options were.'

He added: 'If it was up to me I'd say every guy should go and get tested after the age of 40, 45 - especially if you have a family history.

Stiller has a son Quinlin and a daughter Ella with his wife, actress Christine Taylor (pictured together at the New York premiere of Zoolander 2 in February, doing his signature pose)

This is a screengrab of Stiller's tweet, publicly sharing the news of his diagnosis last month

'The test itself is not harmful, it's what can happen after in terms of over-treatment, and those questions, but those are all things you can discuss with your doctor.'

Indeed, as Stiller alluded to, the test is controversial.

Dr Schaeffer, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explained: 'It's controversial because prostate cancer is a common cancer, one in seven men will have it, but not everybody who gets prostate cancer will die from it. 

'So we have to really better identify those who have a lethal or aggressive cancer from those that do not.'

'In my mind there's not a downside for a patient to know their stats and know where they stand. 

'But some would argue if the test is elevated, it may lead to unnecessary biopies or additional tests, which could cause anxiety for the patient.'

However, Stiller insists men should not be deterred.

'If I hadn't taken this test, I wouldn't have known,' he said. 

'I don't known when I would have known until it had probably become, you know, something that was not going to have the outcome in terms of the treatment that it did have.' 

He added: 'I'm doing great.

'You have to keep on checking on it, but I'm really fortunate.' 


The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends men have a chance to make an informed decision with their doctor about whether to be screened for prostate cancer. 

They say the decision should be made after getting information about the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of prostate cancer screening. 

The discussion about screening should take place at:

  • Age 50 for men who are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live at least 10 more years
  • Age 45 for men at high risk of developing prostate cancer. This includes African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than age 65)
  • Age 40 for men at even higher risk which is those with more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age 

After this discussion, men who want to be screened should be tested with the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. The digital rectal exam (DRE) may also be done as a part of screening.

If, after this discussion, a man is unable to decide if testing is right for him, the screening decision can be made by the health care provider, who should take into account the man’s general health preferences and values.

If no prostate cancer is found as a result of screening, the time between future screenings depends on the results of the PSA blood test:

The ACS says because prostate cancer often grows slowly, men without symptoms of prostate cancer who do not have a 10-year life expectancy should not be offered testing since they are not likely to benefit. Overall health status, and not age alone, is important when making decisions about screening.

Even after a decision about testing has been made, the discussion about the pros and cons of testing should be repeated as new information about the benefits and risks of testing becomes available. 

Further discussions are also needed to take into account changes in a man’s health, values, and preferences.

 Source: American Cancer Society


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