Did you know that nearly 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year? Quite alarming if you come to think of it. But most of the cases are actually low-grade. That means the tumors are slow-growing and small. So slow and small that there really is not much threat to life. In fact, most of these men will probably die of something else before the cancer even starts to get them.
However, most men with low-grade cancer immediately jump into traditional prostate cancer treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. Without being fully aware of the possible consequences. Or they may be aware of them, but they just didn’t understand how great the impact will be. More out of sense of getting it out and over with rather than a logical approach to their problem.
Afterwards they are stuck with leading miserable sex lives on top of their unending runs to the bathroom. Which they could have avoided had they decided to consider watchful waiting and just treat the cancer as it progresses – if it progresses.
Let’s say you have been diagnosed with low-grade, slow-growing prostate cancer. Which would you choose? To deal with the side effects of treatment or maintain your quality of life? You see you actually have an option to set aside these conventional treatments and just turn to them when the time comes. If and when you need to. But for now? Just enjoy your life as it is.
This we call – watchful waiting.
What is Watchful Waiting?
Watchful waiting or active surveillance is one option for managing prostate cancer. It means deciding not to resort to traditional treatments like radiation, surgery, and seed implants just yet.
Watchful waiting does not mean you’re not going to do nothing about it. Rather, you’re just delaying the treatment, if possible, so you still get to put off the side effects and continue to live life as it was meant to be lived – manhood intact.
With watchful waiting, your condition has to be regularly monitored naturally. This means getting your PSA levels every 3-6 months and undergoing annual biopsies to assess whether the cancer cells have spread or have become more aggressive. If the tests reveal the aggressive growth of cancer then that’s the only time when the patient may begin with the appropriate treatment.
FACT: Turns out nearly 70% of those with elevated PSA levels come back with negative biopsies. Also for some, PSA readings can fluctuate more than you’d think from day to day.
Obviously your relationship with your doctor is crucial here. Since you need to closely work together in assessing, monitoring, and managing your condition.
The Role of Biopsy
Biopsy is a very important part of the watchful waiting routine since it is the only way for doctors to get the insights they need about the progress of the cancer. During a biopsy, the pathologist is able to stage the cancer as well as assess whether the cancer has any potential to get aggressive.
How Effective Is Watchful Waiting? – The Statistics Says It All
According to one study, men who were diagnosed with low-grade slow growing cancer who sought active surveillance were shown to have an almost 80% survival rate. And that the patients are nearly 19 times more likely to die in 10 years due to causes other than the cancer.
The Issue on Overtreatment
Many doctors now believe that prostate cancer is actually being over-treated. They conclude this since 40% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are actually perfect candidates for watchful waiting. Yet actual statistics shows that 90% of men are opting for radical treatments. And so these patients never would have to deal with the side effects should they have elected not to embrace any surgical procedure. An important fact considering they are still projected to survive for several years without experiencing any of the symptoms.
Still you can’t blame men who decide to take the route of surgery. Because not everyone would be able to face the day knowing what might be going on in their prostate. In fact, some studies support that a third of men chose treatment because of their anxiety over watchful waiting. It was simply too difficult for them to cope with it emotionally.
Who Are the Perfect Candidates?
For those patients whose tumors are small and slow growing (this means those with PSA levels less than 10 and Gleason Score less than 7), watchful waiting may be the better route to take. However, watchful waiting is not for everyone. Basically high risk patients such as those with prostate cancer family history and those who are African Americans are more likely to develop aggressive cancers so they may be better off deciding to elect a treatment option of some sort.
What Are the Risks Involved?
The only risk involved in watchful waiting is when the prostate cancer has been misclassified. For example, the lab techs failed to detect aggressive cancer cells which had already spread into other regions. That’s why you need to work closely with your physician so you can carefully monitor your condition and minimize such risk.
The Bright Light
In the hope of medical experts to be able to help patients decide better on how to manage their condition, scientists are now actually working on genetic tests that would hopefully pre-determine which certain cancers are slow growing or aggressive. Still, we need to keep our hopes high.
Deciding on what approach you should take in managing your cancer is something which you have to mull over carefully. Because you basically have to tradeoff the side effects of radical treatments vs. the anxiety of living with the cancer. So it’s still your choice in the end. Which would you find easier to live with?