William Shatner health: ‘I was going to die’ – actor, 90, given ‘death-sentence’ diagnosis

William Shatner gets emotional after Blue Origin landing

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As well as dominating the acting industry, Star Trek star Shatner has also made his mark on the music industry, with eight albums to his name. Amongst all his successes, the star’s world sadly came crashing down after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Writing in his own words for an article for NBC, Shatner explained how he had lived an extremely fortunate life, but had also experienced death in many forms. Yet when it was him receiving a devastating diagnosis, the star understandably became fearful that his days were numbered.

“I was told by a doctor I had a terminal disease. That I was going to die,” Shatner explained to NBC.

“I didn’t know how to react to this news. This truly was my funeral we were talking about.

“You have cancer,” the doctor told me. “There must be some mistake, I thought. This is what happens to other people.”

Typically prostate cancer develops slowly, and will not cause any sort of symptoms until the prostate is large enough to affect the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis.

To find out what type of cancer Shatner had, his doctor conducted a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. These tests can determine whether the cancer is importantly life-threatening or not and whether PSA levels have been raised by other non-cancerous conditions.

Elaborating on his diagnosis Shatner said: “To find out which type it was, he took my PSA, a marker for this disease.

“Until then it had been at one or two, well within safe limits. ‘It’s ten,’ he reported. ‘That is an aggressive cancer.’ Ten! My body had betrayed me.”

Shocked, fearful and somewhat angry at the diagnosis, Shatner’s thoughts immediately turned to the prospect of death.

“On an intellectual level, I understood my prognosis; I had made out my will, which said that when I died this person got this, that person got that,” he said.

“But on an emotional level, I was certain I was never going to die. I denied it. To me, it was to make out my will, then have a nice piece of strudel. Death didn’t apply to me.”

After trying to accept life with the heavy burden of a death sentence, Shatner discovered that in certain cases testosterone supplements might have something to do with prostate cancer, the very supplements that he was taking.
“I asked my doctor if I should stop taking the supplements. ‘Yeah,’ he agreed, ‘that would be a good idea’.”

In a study conducted by researchers in Baltimore, USA, used blood samples from 759 men, 111 of whom were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Results found that those over the age of 55 were associated with the development of prostate cancer, showing conclusive evidence that an increased testosterone level is associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

In slight contrast, further research from the University of Oxford found that while low levels of testosterone were associated with decreased risk of developing prostate cancer, high testosterone levels were not associated with increased risk.

From blood samples of around 19,000 men, 6,900 of whom went on to develop prostate cancer researchers found that there are only so many androgen receptors in the body, so once these are “full up” the level of testosterone in the body doesn’t matter as it is impossible to bind to a receptor.

What is important from this research is that although high levels of testosterone don’t increase risk of developing prostate cancer, low levels can lower it. And this is exactly what happened to Shatner.

“Three months later I took another PSA test. It had gone down to one. One. The doctor guessed that the testosterone had resulted in the elevated PSA level,” Shatner explained.

“The body gets cancer all the time and eliminates it, but that test is so sensitive it picked up the hint of it and combined with the PSA reading convinced me I was dying. I was thrilled to learn I did not have cancer. I’m back to not dying. At least right away.”

The NHS explains that a “false-positive” result from PSA tests are common, and a more accurate test for prostate cancer includes a blood test, physical examination, MRI scan or a biopsy.

Individuals who experience the following symptoms should seek advice from a GP, who will probably use the above form of testing:

  • Needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
  • Needing to rush to the toilet
  • Difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • Straining or taking a long time while peeing
  • Weak flow
  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • Blood in urine or blood in semen.

If diagnosed with prostate cancer, individuals will be advised on the best treatment options for their individual case. This can include “watchful waiting” if the cancer is at an early stage, or surgery and radiotherapy if the cancer requires treatment.

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