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PSA test a red flag for legendary driver

August 23, 2005
Courier & Press staff writer

Legendary stock car driver Richard Petty faced prostate cancer with the same winning attitude that crowned him “The King of Racing.”

“You have a bad week, but you just can’t stop,” he said. “I don’t know that you could be too negative in the racing business because you wouldn’t get very far.”

Conjuring up images of his trademark cowboy hat and shades, Petty’s gravely voice traveled the telephone lines from North Carolina like a warm Sunday drive down a tree-lined country lane. Cancer, he said, was another roadblock to get over or go around.

Petty and his son, Winston Cup champion Kyle Petty, will be featured in “The Race Against Prostate Cancer, a fundraising awareness event Sunday at the Centre.

During the program, Kyle Petty will discuss the ideals that have kept the Petty family at the top of racing for generations as well as his father’s prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Kyle Petty takes after his mother and is “the talker,” Richard Petty said, but he was too busy in the shop preparing for Saturday’s Sharpie 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway to come to the phone Monday.

Richard Petty, 68, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, racked up 200 career Winston Cup victories and was the sport’s first million-dollar driver. Kyle Petty, 45, a third-generation driver, also is a philanthropist and CEO of Petty Enterprises, which was founded by family patriarch, the late Lee Petty.

After retiring as a driver in 1992, Richard Petty said he continued having the yearly medical exams driving required. A few years after his final Fan Appreciation Tour, Petty said his doctor called after his annual checkup to report his PSA level was elevated and a biopsy was in order.

“They told me the PSA went up,” Petty said. “I didn’t know what PSA was.”

A PSA (prostate specific antigen) test is used to screen for prostate cancer by measuring the amount of PSA in the blood. Although Petty said his level wasn’t particularly high, it was higher than it had been in the previous 20 years. The increase sent up a red flag.

“We were all just sort of holding hands. You don’t never know. We’ve been in the racing business all these years and had a lot of wrecks and made it through,” Petty said. “I guess in the profession that we grew up in and around, you’ve got to have a positive attitude.”

The biopsy resulted in a cancer diagnosis. About a month later, Petty underwent surgery to remove his prostate gland. Luckily, the cancer had not spread, and the operation was successful. His PSA returned to a normal level.

“I guess that’s about as good as you can do,” Petty said. “I’m still running wide open.”

With prostate cancer, Petty said early detection is key. More then 232,090 men will face prostate cancer this year, and another 30,350 will die from the disease.

“Go to the doctor and get you a PSA check,” Petty said.

“It’s so simple and easy to check for it. If you don’t do it, you’re foolish.”

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