Ben Stiller revealed on SiriusXM's The Howard Stern Show Tuesday that he was diagnosed with "immediately aggressive" prostate cancer at the age of 48. The Zoolander 2 actor, now 50, appeared on Howard Stern's program with his surgeon, Edward Schaeffer, and discussed his experience for the first time publicly. "It came out of the blue for me," Ben said. "I had no idea."
"At first, I didn't know what was going to happen, so I was scared. I was scared," he admitted. "The one thing that it does is it just stops everything in your life when you get a diagnosis of cancer, because you can't plan for a movie, because you don't know what's going to happen."
Ben said he had no family history of prostate cancer. "My dad didn't have it," he told Stern. "I'm not in the high-risk group." Even so, his doctor, Bernard Kruger, was able to detect the disease by conducting a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test during a yearly physical.The blood test examines and measures the amount of PSA in a patient's blood, which is produced by cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate.
"It's a very controversial subject, the PSA test. A PSA test is the only early screener for prostate cancer, and right now the United States Preventative Services Task Force does not recommend to take the test. I think the American Cancer Society says you should discuss it at 50," Ben said. "If I hadn't gotten the test—my doctor started giving it to me about 46—right now I still wouldn't have known."
The first PSA test revealed Ben's levels were high, but not alarming. Even so, Ben's doctor re-administered the test six months later and found his PSA levels were even higher than before. "After the second time, I started to get a little worried," he said. Ben went through a series of tests, including an MRI and biopsy, before doctors confirmed he had prostate cancer.
"Anybody who's had to deal with any type of disease, it brings up so much in your life," Ben said. "And the way that it starts to happen is you go from one text to the next test, and then it starts to become more of a reality."
"The first thing I did when I got diagnosed was get on the Internet to try to learn," he said. "I saw [Robert] De Niro had had it. I called him right away." Ben, who is married to actress Christine Taylor, 45, then shared the news with their two kids: Ella Stiller, 14, and Quinlin Stiller, 11. "I told them I had something I had to deal with," the actor recalled. "They were pretty cool with it."
Ben later had surgery to remove his prostate. "Afterwards, it just gives you an appreciation for life," he said. "Every six months I'm taking my PSA test to make sure I'm clear."
Why share his story now?
"I wanted to talk about it because of the test," Ben said. "I feel like the test saved my life."
"The controversy about the test is that once you get treatment for prostate cancer, things can happen: incontinence, impotence," said Ben, who produced the new movie Why Him?. "It's the second most deadly cancer, but it's also one of the most survived cancers, if it's detected early."
"I was someone who had a case that could be treated. There are a lot of people who can't because they discover it too late. I went from being like, 'Oh, poor me. I have cancer,' to 'Oh, I am so lucky," Ben said. Though PSA tests aren't mandatory, he added, "I think everybody should discuss it with their doctor and have the opportunity to discuss it with their doctor."
Ben also opened up about how his prostate removal affected his sex life. "When the first erection happened post-surgery, we all celebrated," he said, noting that it happened the night after he went under the knife. "That's not typical," his surgeon joked, "but he's a movie star."
The actor said it "took some time" to get back into the groove. "You get in there in the nerves, so it changes the experience of what an orgasm feels like. It's great—it's just totally different. There's no ejaculate. It's totally fine...It's a very interesting experience. I think there's that adjustment for sure. I'm not going to have any more kids, but I'm lucky to have two great kids."
After his interview with Stern aired, Stiller published a detailed essay via Medium.
"I got diagnosed with prostate cancer Friday, June 13, 2014. On Sept. 17 of that year I got a test back telling me I was cancer free. The three months in between were a crazy roller coaster ride with which about 180,000 men a year in America can identify," the Secret Life of Walter Mitty actor wrote. "Right after I got the news, still trying to process the key words echoing dimly in my head ('probability of survival–vival-vival-val...' 'incontinence-nence-nence-ence...'), I promptly got on my computer and Googled 'Men who had prostate cancer.' I had no idea what to do and needed to see some proof this was not the end of the world."
At first encouraged by seeing names like John Kerry, Mandy Patinkin and Joe Torre, Ben's worries lessened. "Then of course had to do one more search, going dark and quickly tapping in 'died of' in place of 'had' in the search window," he wrote. "As I learned more about my disease (one of the key learnings is not to Google 'people who died of prostate cancer' immediately after being diagnosed with prostate cancer), I was able to wrap my head around the fact that I was incredibly fortunate. Fortunate because my cancer was detected early enough to treat. And also because my internist gave me a test he didn't have to."
Using a PSA test is controversial, Ben admitted, noting that there are various "articles and op-eds on whether it is safe, studies that seem to be interpreted in many different ways, and debates about whether men should take it all." Regardless, he wants to help others. "I am not offering a scientific point of view here, just a personal one, based on my experience," he wrote.
"If [my internist] 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," Ben wrote. "If he had followed the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, I would have never gotten tested at all, and not have known I had cancer until it was way too late to treat successfully."
Though a PSA is "definitely not foolproof," the actor wrote, "I count my blessings that I had a doctor who presented me with these options. After I chose to take the test, he directed me to doctors who worked at centers of excellence in this field to determine the next steps. This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one. But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early."