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Is Surgery Always Needed for Prostate Cancer Treatment?

Men who are diagnosed with low-risk, early stage prostate cancer may find their doctors recommending they take a unique approach to treatment. Rather than rush headlong into surgery and other interventions, research is showing that watchful waiting can have benefits. This form of treatment involves careful monitoring of a tumor, but no direct interventions. In doing so, “active surveillance,” as it is called, can help men avoid some of the less savory side effects of treatment.

While doing “nothing” when cancer is diagnosed may seem counterintuitive, there is strong evidence to support this move. The results of a 20-year study, in fact, show that men who are diagnosed with early stage, lower risk cases may not gain any real survival benefits from surgery. There are some distinct reasons why this might be so, but only when cancer is deemed low risk.

Low risk prostate cancer that is diagnosed before it has spread to other parts of the body is likely to be very slow growing. Given that most men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at or after the age of 65, the statistics show men are more likely to die from other causes before their cancer even spreads. That means foregoing aggressive interventions may be “safe,” but there are some caveats. Men who choose this path are strongly urged to follow all testing recommendations. This means reporting in for routine blood work and also going in for occasional biopsies. These tests are meant to ensure that the nature of the cancer hasn’t not changed.

Active surveillance may be a viable option for as many as 70 percent of the men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Men who are considering this treatment path are strongly advised to talk with their doctors about the potential benefits and drawbacks. It is also important to remember that routine surveillance is key for ensuring that interventions are undertaken if cancer poses a greater risk down the road.