Prostate cancer no longer just classroom lesson for URI pharmacy professor

KINGSTON, R.I. — October 15, 1998–With students in his epidemiology classes, URI Associate Professor of Pharmacy E. Paul Larrat uses prostate cancer as an example of a chronic disease epidemic. He tells the students that the disease typically affects people over 55. So in February 1997 when Larrat’s doctor suspected a prostate problem, the professor and vice president of Pro-Mark, a pharmacy benefit company, wasn’t worried. “I was too young. I always tell my students that prostate cancer is very age specific. I also have no family history.” Even after an ultrasound and a biopsy of his prostate, Larrat didn’t think he had the disease. “I thought it was simply calcification,” he said. Larrat was working with a group of graduate students when he learned the results of his tests. At 37 years old, he had prostate cancer. “I was a total wreck,” said Larrat, who holds a pharmacy degree and a master’s in business administration from URI. He has a doctorate in epidemiology from Brown University Medical School. “At first, I was totally unfocused, but like any scientist I soon jumped on the internet and pulled out piles of information on prostate cancer,” he said. He learned that there were four different treatment paths: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and a wait and see approach. He decided on surgery, because surgery is a pretty sure bet for a cure. “There is a high success rate when cancer has remained in the prostate and hasn’t spread,” Larrat said. His hadn’t spread. He had the surgery in the spring of 1997 at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. “From my reading and the advice of my own doctors, I decided on Johns Hopkins because it does many of these procedures.” After four nights in the hospital and another few days in a hotel in Baltimore so he could be checked for any problems, he went home with his wife Amey to their two children. “After a couple of weeks, I was sneaking back in to work part-time,” Larrat said. “And last fall, I resumed my running and Sunday night soccer league play in East Greenwich.” For 12 months following surgery he had to visit the doctor quarterly for follow-up prostate exams and the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, a blood test designed to flag prostate cancer. Now he has to go back twice a year to his doctor for an examination. Next year, he will only have to see the doctor on an annual basis. “The good thing about prostate cancer is that it is slow growing,” Larrat said. “It’s the most common cancer (excluding skin cancer) for men.” In addition, the American Cancer Society says that the number of cases found during the past decade has increased dramatically, largely due to improved detection. Larrat now knows the importance of seeing a doctor regularly. Prior to that visit to the doctor in February 1997, he hadn’t seen one in eight years. But the untimely death of his 53-year-old colleague, Pharmacy Professor Albert Taubman, in 1996 prompted Larrat to see his doctor. “I didn’t have any symptoms, and I felt great,” he said. Now he teaches his students to stress the importance of regular medical care with their patients when they get in a pharmacy or clinical setting. Larrat has also become an advocate for knowledge about prostate cancer. “I work with the American Cancer Society on its advisory board and do some speaking for them at local businesses and to groups of health care professionals. Since men don’t usually talk about prostate cancer, it’s usually just me and a bunch of breast cancer survivors,” he said with a laugh.” “I try to make it fun and add my own personal experience.” Larrat also participates in American Cancer Society walk-a-thons to benefit cancer research. “Next year, the College of Pharmacy is going to challenge URI’s College of Nursing,” he said. -xxx- For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116