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Dad's Prostate Cancer Treatment


My father has prostate cancer and has decided to forgo treatment. Dad is 89 years old, and this decision was made in consultation with his doctor. That is all well and good. What’s bothering me is that Dad is a very stubborn man, and it is likely this decision is all his doing, listening very little to his doctor’s recommendations, if you know what I mean.

Is there a way I can get information from his doctor without my father knowing, or is this just another thing about him that I must accept? I am not sure he is making a wise choice. As his son I want to know.



First, I want to acknowledge your potential loss. A diagnosis of cancer sparks fear in loved ones and is a call to action for most. Knowing that your father has a life-limiting diagnosis can be overwhelming. Before you react too strongly, potentially damaging your relationship with your father, take a step back for a moment.

For the most part, cancer of the prostate grows slowly and may not require action in his lifetime. Your father may have early-stage prostate cancer that only bears watching. Without detailed information regarding the type and stage of his cancer, you cannot make any “informed second-guesses” about his decision. You simply do not have the necessary information to do that. Based on his age and other health conditions, no action may the best choice.

Now, let’s talk about getting details from the doctor. Without your father’s permission, you may not obtain information from his doctor. You see, there is something called HIPAA, which is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This law was enacted in 1996 and everyone that works in health care takes the protections it affords the public very seriously. The fines for noncompliance with this law are very significant. Unless granted permission by your father, his health information is his and his alone.

I recommend you ask your father in a nonjudgmental way about his cancer.

This will be a dance you need to lead carefully in order to prevent a complete shutdown on his part. It is all in the approach. Keep in mind that if he is as stubborn as you say, you may also have some of those tendencies.

Since he has already told you about it, he has opened the door to conversation. I would see that as an opportunity. You may wish to say, “Dad, the other day you mentioned that you have prostate cancer. Is it the slow-growing kind? Is it something that will impact you during your lifetime? Would you feel comfortable telling me you refused treatment?” You may even add, “Since I am not getting any younger myself, I wonder about genetics and my chances of getting the same thing.”  Hopefully, this will create positive conversations for you both.

I wish you the best.