Ben Stiller Goes Public: How He Fought Prostate Cancer and Won

"It came out of the blue for me," actor told Howard on Tuesday's Stern Show

October 4, 2016

Ben Stiller is talking for the first time about being diagnosed with prostate cancer at 48. Stiller, now 50, visited the Stern Show on Tuesday morning and told Howard how he and his doctor were able to detect and treat the disease early.

“It came out of the blue for me,” Ben told Howard. “I had no idea.” Had he not gotten tested by his doctor, Ben’s cancer could have gone undetected. Luckily, he was given a PSA, or prostate-specific antigen test, in his 40s, despite most medical professionals suggesting that prostate cancer screening not begin until age 50.

“It’s a very controversial subject, the PSA test,” Ben said. “The 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 American Cancer Society says you should discuss it at 50. If I hadn’t taken the test – my doctor started giving it to me at 46 – I would not have known. Right now, I still wouldn’t have known.”

When his PSA test came back with higher than normal levels, Ben was then given an MRI followed by a biopsy. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Ben explained one of the first things he did was search the internet to learn about others who have had prostate cancer, including his former co-star Robert De Niro.

“I called him right away,” Ben told Howard. “He hooked me up with his doctor.” After talking to several specialists, Ben was introduced to Dr. Ted Schaeffer, the chair of Northwestern University’s Department of Urology, who has performed some 2,000 surgeries in his career.

“I felt comfortable with Ted,” Ben said. “You want to go to a surgeon that you feel is going to get rid of the cancer first and preserve everything.” On the morning of his operation, however, Ben admitted to being scared, calling it a “frightening” experience. Howard wondered if Ben was at all scared about losing his sexual function and if he had sex, possibly for the last time, the night before his surgery.

“My wife was kind enough,” Ben said with a laugh. Post-surgery, sex has changed for Stiller. He and his doctor explained what men can expect after undergoing a procedure that removes the prostate.

“It takes time to come back,” Ben said. “It changes the experience of what an orgasm feels like. It’s great, it just feels different.”

“The prostate makes the semen,” Dr. Ted said. “You can totally have an erection and everything you’re thinking and feeling during sex is the same because that’s up in your brain.”

After a successful surgery, Ben was given another PSA test which came back clean. Three months after the operation, a second test showed that the cancer was officially gone. Ben told Howard that he saved the Tweety Bird band-aid from his final blood test to remind him of how grateful he was to get that good news.

“It just gives you an appreciation for everything in life and all the other bullshit doesn’t matter,” Ben said. Now, his goal is to get the word out about PSA tests and how important it is for men to get one, even if they’re not yet 50.

“It’s part of who I am now,” Ben said. “This thing saved my life, I gotta say something.”

To read Ben’s firsthand account of his battle with prostate cancer, click here.