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More Yankee misfortune: Torre has prostate cancer

By Times wire services

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 1999

Joe Torre, the manager of the world champion New York Yankees, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and left the team Wednesday to begin treatment.

Torre, 58, discovered he had the disease from a test the Yankees required at spring training in response to outfielder Darryl Strawberry's colon-cancer diagnosis in October.

The team thinks doctors caught the disease in its early stages, and Torre underwent further tests Wednesday that will help determine the course of his treatment.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said Torre, who spent the day at his spring home in Tampa, could be back in time for the team's home opener on April 9.

"I feel fine, and I am looking forward to taking care of this problem and getting back to work," said Torre, a father of four children, including a 3-year-old daughter.

It has been a particularly difficult week for the Yankees.

Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio died Monday and former Yankees star Catfish Hunter, weakened by Lou Gehrig's Disease, visited camp.

Yankees players were shocked at the Torre announcement, particularly Strawberry, who Wednesday played his first game since his cancer diagnosis.

"It's a very sad day for all of us," he said. "We're devastated."

Several high-profile celebrities have survived prostate cancer recently and have worked to raise awareness about the disease.

They include Tampa resident and former Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the golfer Arnold Palmer and former Sen. Bob Dole.

Torre joins more than 179,000 U.S. men who will be found to have prostate cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. New cases of prostate cancer have risen dramatically with the widespread use of a test to detect a prostate-specific antigen. The test, introduced in 1985, is recommended annually for men older than 50 and measures the level of this substance in the blood and may indicate cancer.

Along with the PSA test, the cancer society recommends that men have an annual rectal examination to aid detection.

Torre was tested during spring training in 1998 and apparently given a clean bill of health. He had another PSA test last month during the club's annual physical, and the results alarmed doctors. Torre later had a biopsy, and he learned of the cancer Tuesday night.

Controversy has swirled around the use of the PSA test because in some men prostate cancer is not aggressive and would never become a clinical problem before they die. But in many others, the test has proven to be a lifesaver that picked up potentially deadly cancers before they caused symptoms and while they could still be cured.

Death rates from prostate cancer have been declining significantly, at a rate of 1.6 percent a year in the early 1990s. This year an estimated 37,000 men will die from the disease, making it the second-leading cause of cancer death in men (See article, above).

More than three-fourths of men who have prostate cancer are older than 65. The risk is highest among African-Americans and those with a family history of the disease. Suspected risk factors include smoking and a high-fat diet. Recent studies singled out lycopene, a substance in cooked tomatoes, as a possible protector.

The most effective treatment depends on the prostate cancer and how aggressive it is thought to be. It is not yet known whether Torre has the aggressive or the non-aggressive form or what treatment he will undergo.

The three leading treatments are radical surgery to remove the prostate and surrounding tissue (which can cause impotence and incontinence), external radiation therapy and implantation of radioactive seeds. Men are also often treated with hormone therapy in conjunction with other treatments.

A study of 1,872 men with localized prostate cancer published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that those with cancers rated a high risk for spreading beyond the prostate did best if treated with radical surgery. Their survival rate exceeded that of those who got radioactive implants, even if the implant group also got hormone therapy. For those at intermediate risk, radioactive implants plus hormone therapy proved as effective as radical surgery.

A second study published in the Journal suggested that a conservative approach to treatment may be appropriate in some cases.
-- Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Boston Globe was used in this report.

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