Medical Issues in Context

Aortic Aneurysms

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It leads away from the heart, through the chest and abdominal regions, and then divides into a blood vessel for each leg. The aorta can sometimes develop an aneurysm, an abnormal bulge in the blood vessel. An aneurysm is dangerous because it has the potential to rupture, with life-threatening consequences.

There are two types of aortic aneurysms, abdominal and thoracic. The less common of the two, the thoracic aortic aneurysm, occurs in the chest cavity. Bob Stern was diagnosed with the more common type, the abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), which occurs below the kidneys in the abdomen. According to the University of Southern California Center for Vascular Care, AAA's occur in six to nine percent of men over the age of 65 and are twice as common in men than in women.

What You Can Do

The aortic walls can be weakened by a variety of different causes, including buildup of plaque (cholesterol and other fatty deposits), high blood pressure, genetic weakness, smoking, and trauma, usually from motor vehicle accidents. The treatment your physician will recommend will vary depending on your general health and the size and location of the aneurysm.

Your doctor may advocate a "watch and wait" approach or may feel that surgery is needed. Surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm requires an abdominal incision and the USC Center for Vascular Care reports a five to seven day post-operative hospital stay. Complete recovery generally takes four to six weeks. After this period only five percent of patients require additional treatment.

Prostate Cancer

The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It is located in front of the rectum and below the bladder and surrounds part of the urethra. About the size of a walnut, the prostate contains gland cells which create seminal fluid. Seminal fluid protects and nourishes sperm cells in semen.

Prostate cancer is very common; one out of every six American men will develop the disease in his lifetime. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, men are 33% more likely to develop prostate cancer than women are to develop breast cancer. No single known cause of prostate cancer has been identified.

What You Can Do

Medical experts advocate agressive, early screening for prostate cancer beginning at age 50, or at age 45 in the African-American community. With early detection, surgery or radiation treatment can provide a cure.

University of Southern California Center for Vascular Care
The American Cancer Society
The Prostate Cancer Foundation

Related Links:

Online research is not a substitute for a conversation with your personal physician, but reliable information can be found at these websites:

USC Center for Vascular Care -- "Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm"
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons -- "Thoracic Aneurysm Surgery"
The American Heart Association -- "What is an Aortic Aneurysm?"
The American Cancer Society -- "All About Prostate Cancer"
The Prostate Cancer Foundation -- "About Prostate Cancer"