Bioethics Blogs

Celebrity Medicine: Ben Stiller’s Prostate Edition

by Kaitlynd Hiller

During an interview in early October, Ben Stiller spoke publicly for the first time about his successful battle with prostate cancer, and how, if it were up to the American Cancer Society (ACS), perhaps he wouldn’t have won. Stiller also published a same-day article on Medium[1] that detailed the care he received and the factors that guided those decisions. Although this public reveal is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s 2013 Op-Ed on genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomies, Stiller’s is more controversial. Not only did he pursue screening earlier than suggested and question the evidence-based national guidelines, he’s also gone on to advocate for a position that many public health experts today are trying to walk back on: that screening saves lives.

Unlike Jolie, Stiller had no family history of the disease he received screening for. At the time he began having his PSA levels routinely tested, Stiller was 48 years old with no other known risk factors. The ACS recommends starting the discussion of prostate screening with men like Stiller (counted as “average risk”) at age 50.[2] The American Urological Association’s guideline does not recommend annual screening in average risk men ages 40 to 55 years, and the US Preventative Services Task Force recommends against the use of the PSA test in all asymptomatic, average risk populations.[3] Stiller credits his cancer-free status to his “thoughtful internist,” who began discussing PSA testing multiple years ahead of what these guidelines suggest. Ben puts it into perspective: “If [my doctor] had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50, I would not have known I had a growing tumor until two years after I got treated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.