Contrary to what a lot of people believe, prostate cancer treatment options do not start and end with surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. There are two other treatment options for prostate cancer that need to be discussed and evaluated in almost every newly diagnosed gentleman with this disease. And these are – Watchful waiting and Active surveillance.
Watchful waiting implies withholding active treatment for prostate cancer (surgery, radiation or hormone therapy) in men with advanced age or multiple medical problems till they develop significant symptoms from the disease. It is considered in men with early prostate cancer, who have a limited life expectancy of less than 5 to 10 years and have not yet developed significant symptoms from their disease. It is based on the premise that a significant proportion of men with prostate cancer have slow growing disease and hence will not be affected by it in their expected lifetime. It is very important to note that AGE should not be the sole criterion for applying watchful waiting in patients. I have come across many patients even in their late 70s who enjoy excellent health and have a life expectancy of at least 10 to 15 years and more. These are the patients who are very likely to benefit from active treatment for prostate cancer with surgery or radiation.
Active surveillance, on the other hand, is a treatment option for very early stage of prostate cancer which is expected to be localised within the prostate and has not spread beyond it. It can be applied to men with less aggressive types of this disease and can be recommended as an alternative to immediate treatment with radiation or surgery. For active surveillance to be considered, ALL of the following conditions should me met in the evaluation of the patient:
- PSA should be less than 10 ng/ml
- Gleason score in the biopsy should be 3+3 = 6; Men with Gleason 7 or above prostate cancer are not good candidates for active surveillance in most circumstances
- In the biopsy report, not more than 2 cores should be positive for prostate cancer
- There should not be an involvement of more than 50% of any core with prostate cancer
- Clinical stage should be T2a or less (This is determined by your doctor on physical examination of the prostate)
If all the above criteria are met, a serious thought should be given to proceeding with active surveillance and withholding immediate treatment for prostate cancer. Active surveillance involves regular physical examination and PSA tests every 3 months, and a prostate biopsy repeated every year to ensure that the cancer is not becoming more aggressive. In case it is found that the cancer is increasing in volume or aggressiveness, immediate treatment is indicated. It has been found that by following this strategy, up to 70% of patients fulfilling the above criteria can safely avoid surgery, radiation or hormone therapy for prolonged periods of time with attendant benefits in terms of improved quality of life and decreased complications.
In summary, it is important to have a discussion with your doctor about all the treatment options for prostate cancer including active surveillance and watchful waiting. It is also a good idea to seek a second opinion from another source to increase your knowledge and reach an appropriate decision for individualizing treatment for prostate cancer depending on the person’s medical conditions, disease status and preferences.
This article has been written by Dr. Gagan Gautam, Head of Urologic Oncology & Robotic Surgery at Max Institute of Cancer Care, New Delhi, India. Besides being India’s leading robotic surgery expert for prostate cancer, Dr. Gautam is also closely involved in the counselling and individualised care of men afflicted with this disease. His major focus is directed towards helping men in selecting and receiving the best treatment option for prostate cancer based on their personal medical conditions and preferences.
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