Emojis help men ‘calculate’ their risk of prostate cancer

Online calculator is free to use


SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Jack Compton, 72, likes to hear all of the facts before he makes his decisions.

Compton spent 34 years with NASA training astronauts, so when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, he wasn't ready to launch into treatment without careful consideration.

As his doctor explained, some prostate cancers can grow and spread very quickly, but most grow slowly and may never cause any serious effects.

"When you understand that, then you say, 'Well, what's the likelihood that cancer's going to kill me?'" said Compton.

"These slow-growing cancers, I would contend that if I had a choice of doing a biopsy of a man who finds those, I'd rather not find it," said Dr. Ian Thompson, director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Thompson developed a unique way for men to evaluate their risk of developing prostate cancer using a simple tool called the Prostate Cancer Risk Calculator.

In a couple of minutes, a man can find out his risk by entering some information about himself. The results are based on a prostate cancer prevention study that involved close to 19,000 men. Numeric percentages of the risk level are represented with emojis that are happy, serious, or sad.

"These are the ones [that say] it's bad news," said Thompson, gesturing to the sad, red emojis. "But these are the ones you can help."

There are some restrictions on the calculator. A man must be 55 years old or older, have no previous diagnosis of prostate cancer, and must have digital rectal exam and prostate-specific antigen test results less than one year old for the outcome to be as accurate as possible.

Compton and his doctor ultimately chose to monitor his cancer instead of treating it. Compton encourages men to take advantage of the calculator.

“I don’t think a lot of the world realizes there’s a tool like that sitting out there,” he said.