Urology Chair Dipen Parekh, M.D., Treats Baseball Hall-of-Famer with Robotic Surgery

Long known for his courage on the baseball field, Andre Dawson recently faced an even bigger personal challenge. “When I found out I had prostate cancer, I was scared to death,” said Dawson, 58, who was elected to the Hall of Fame after a stellar 21-year career. “But I tackled my cancer head on, and did what was necessary to get better. Now, I hope that sharing my story can save others’ lives.”

At an April 25 news conference at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dawson emphasized the importance of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening followed by prompt treatment if cancer is discovered. “At some point, every older male will encounter an enlarged prostate issue,” said Dawson, who is still active in Major League Baseball as special assistant to the president of the Miami Marlins. “That’s why screening for cancer is so important. If you can detect it early enough, you can treat it and be cancer free.”

Commending Dawson for speaking about his experience, Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, and CEO of UHealth, said, “Thank you from all the patients you will help in the future.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,720 deaths in the United States in 2013. African-American men like Dawson, and men who have lost relatives to prostate cancer, have a higher risk.

Dawson learned he had an elevated PSA level, an indication of possible cancer, following his annual physical for the Miami Marlins last spring. He waited until after the Marlins’ 2012 season to see one of the nation’s experts in prostate cancer treatment who happened to be in his hometown, Dipen J. Parekh, M.D., professor and Chairman of Urology, Director of Robotic Surgery at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Victor A. Politano Endowed Chair in Urology.

“There is considerable debate over whether screening for prostate cancer is beneficial or not,” said Parekh. “For this baseball legend who is now in the prime of life, a prompt biopsy made sense.” After diagnosing cancer, Parekh discussed the options, including active surveillance — monitoring the tumor for further growth — radiation therapy or surgical removal of the prostate.

“I was impressed with Dr. Parekh’s background and even more impressed when I met him in person,” said Dawson. “For me, having a biopsy was a no-brainer. Then, when we discussed my options, I told him to remove the prostate, because I didn’t want the cancer in my body at all.”

On December 18, Parekh performed a minimally invasive prostatectomy using the da Vinci robot at Sylvester. A da Vinci prostatectomy is a minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgical procedure that removes the cancerous prostate gland and related structures. With this approach, Dawson experienced a much shorter hospitalization and substantially less pain. “The entire staff at Sylvester was very encouraging and supportive,” said Dawson. “But I couldn’t wait to get back to the gym, and resume my regular routine.”

At the news conference, Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Director of Sylvester, highlighted the multidisciplinary approach to patients with prostate cancer. “Our team helps patients dealing with the diagnosis of cancer find their way,” he said.

After a recent checkup, Dawson’s blood work showed no further signs of cancer — a result of early detection and the successful surgery. “Today, Andre Dawson is cancer free and back to doing all the things he likes to do in life,” said Parekh. “He is a perfect patient.” In fact, Dawson recently addressed the Marlins’ minor league personnel during spring training about the importance of PSA screening.

Although Dawson went through 12 knee operations in his All-Star baseball career and two knee-replacement surgeries afterwards, he says dealing with prostate cancer gave him a new perspective. “It really changed how I look at life,” he said. “No one is guaranteed tomorrow.”

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