‘Friends’ Actor James Michael Tyler Reveals Stage IV Prostate Cancer Diagnosis
Friends actor James Michael Tyler revealed that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago. On NBC’s Today on Monday, the actor shared that he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer back in 2018, and that the disease has now progressed to stage IV.
Tyler said his cancer was first detected during a routine physical exam at age 56, when his doctor ordered a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. The test measures the level of a protein that may be found at higher-than-normal levels in men who have prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“That came back at an extraordinarily high number,” Tyler said. “So I knew immediately when I went online and I saw the results of my blood test and blood work that there was obviously something quite wrong there. Nearly immediately my doctor called me and said, ‘Hey, I need you to come in tomorrow because I suspect that you may have quite a serious problem with your prostate.’” Follow-up testing confirmed the diagnosis.
Tyler’s treatment plan included hormone therapy, which was pretty effective for some time. That regimen of three different drugs “worked amazingly for about a year” and enabled Tyler to “go about life regularly,” he said. “All I had to do was take a pill in the morning and the night, and boom, life was pretty much normal.”
The actor, who played coffee shop employee Gunther on Friends, told Today that the disease has since worsened considerably, as he discovered at a checkup that was delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing,” Tyler said. “So the cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it’s progressed.” The cancer has spread to his bones, causing bone fractures and tumors along the spine that have paralyzed his lower body.
Tyler, 59, is currently being treated with chemotherapy and says that, unfortunately, his prognosis is not good. “If it spreads beyond the prostate to the bones, which is most prevalent in my form, it can be a lot more difficult to deal with,” Tyler said. “For my specific prognosis, it’s of course a stage IV, late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”
Tyler is coping by relying on the help of an “extraordinary” support group, as well as a good sense of humor and a renewed sense of appreciation for each day. “It’s made me, personally, just realize how important every moment is, every day,” Tyler said. “Keep fighting. Keep yourself as light as possible.” He also sets realistic goals for himself: “My goal this past year was to see my 59th birthday. I did that, May 28,” he said.
Tyler said he regrets that his prostate cancer was not caught earlier when the disease can be more treatable. His current goal is “to help save at least one life by coming out with this news” by raising awareness about prostate cancer and encouraging early screening and diagnosis, he said. “That’s my only reason for coming out like this and letting people know,” Tyler explained. “That’s my new role. I don’t want people to have to go through what I’ve been going through. This is not…an easy process.”
As Tyler emphasized, prostate cancer is much more easily treatable—and has a much higher five-year relative survival rate—when caught before it has spread throughout the body, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However, early detection is complicated. There is no standard or routine screening test because PSA blood tests and digital rectal exams have not been proved to decrease the risk of dying from the disease, and screening has potential risks (like false positives, false negatives, and undergoing unnecessary procedures), the NCI explains.