Mark Skrien

Mark Skrien has a family history of prostate cancer with his father and two uncles diagnosed during their lifetimes. He underwent surgery during the coronavirus pandemic.

OWATONNA, Minn. — Mark Skrien has a family history of prostate cancer with his father and two uncles diagnosed during their lifetimes. So he wasn’t surprised in February when lab results showed his cancer screening test that looks for signs of prostate cancer was high.

Because of Skrien’s family history and high PSA test result, he was told he’d need a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of prostate cancer, which was completed on March 19.

Skrien’s biopsy confirmed his fears – he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

“Dr. Sneiders said my tumor was 4 + 5 = 9 on the Gleason scale,” said Skrien of Mayo Clinic Health System urologist Dr. Alex Sneiders. The Gleason Score is a 1 to 10 ranking system to determine the aggressiveness of prostate cancer.

Normally, Skrien’s appointment with Mayo Clinic urologist Dr. Matthew Tollefson in Rochester, Minn. would take place in person, but it was held using telehealth technology on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It could be several months before surgery could be completed. Tollefson recommended Skrien start with hormone therapy to slow the cancer growth.

“Hormonal therapy is frequently used in prostate cancer as a treatment to sensitize the tumor to radiation and provide a way to avoid more toxic treatment (like chemotherapy) for metastatic prostate cancer,” Tollefson said.

After hormone therapy, Tollefson would perform a robot-assisted radical prostatectomy to remove the tumor.

Skrien received the first hormone therapy injection in Owatonna and waited for his surgery to be scheduled. He did not need to wait long, as he received a call just nine days later from Dr. Tanner Miest, Mayo Clinic in Rochester’s chief resident in urology.

“Dr. Miest said that they had a surgery opening on April 15 or 17 and I just needed to pass a COVID-19 test before,” says Skrien. “I jumped at the chance.”

Before the surgery, Skrien completed tests in Owatonna and Rochester including a MRI, two CT scans, and a bone scan to make sure the cancer had not spread to other areas of his body. He also had a COVID-19 test to determine that he was negative for the virus.

On the morning of April 15, Skrien’s wife dropped him off at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “It was surreal, walking into surgery and looking back to see her waving at the door,” he says.

Due to visitor restrictions at that time, Skrien’s wife was not able to accompany him on that day but received updates from staff throughout the day. Restrictions have since been modified to allow one visitor.

Since returning home, Skrien is feeling well during his recovery and walking up to two miles a day. Skrien will return to the Mayo Clinic in three months to repeat the PSA screening. If his levels are in the normal range, he does not expect needing any additional treatment.

When reflecting on having surgery during a pandemic, Skrien has high praise for the care team. “Everyone did a fantastic job in Owatonna and Rochester. I have so many positive thoughts and memories of the staff, from schedulers to nurses and doctors to the staff who served my lunch,” he said.

“Prostate cancer treatment and even screening is very safe today — probably safer than going to the grocery store,” Tollefson said.