A diagnosis of any kind of cancer can be devastating. But with prostate cancer, it is not necessarily as serious as it sounds. A lot of times, the cancer is considered low-risk. That’s because while it may reside in the gland, certain varieties never spread beyond it. It is the aggressive variety that, if left untreated, can spread and begin to threaten a man’s life. Due to this, men with low-risk prostate cancer are often put on what is known as watchful waiting, also called active surveillance (AS).
This is when the patient and physician monitor the cancer carefully for any signs that it may spread. There is no reason to treat it until it turns aggressive. And doing so could cause serious side effects such as ED and urinary and bowel incontinence. So treatment is avoided unless it proves to be necessary. But how are these patients doing? Are they constantly worrying about their cancer? According to a new long-term Dutch study, those who are on active surveillance enjoy a high quality of life.
427 participants between the ages of 66 and 69, each with low risk prostate cancer, took part. They were assessed for quality of life at the onset, and monitored for five to ten years after they were diagnosed. 204 others without prostate cancer, who were around the same age, stood as a control group. Of those who had cancer, 121 opted for active surveillance, 74 underwent surgery, and 232 had radiotherapy or radiation treatment. Those who went for watchful waiting over the other treatments had better sexual functioning, and urinary and bowel function. In fact, those who went for AS had quality of life scores on par with those who had no cancer at all.
Though having cancer and undergoing follow-up treatments can lead to stress, this may subside after the initial shock wears off. Of course, if the stress is consistent and overwhelming, treatment may be best. For those who can live life happily without constant worry, AS may be the best option. But it must be caught first. Most of the time, prostate cancer gives no symptoms until it is too late. That is why men age 50 and over are urged to talk to a doctor or an urologist about screening. The sooner it is caught, the better the strategy you and the physician can put into place to safeguard your health, while allowing for the highest quality of life possible.