Prostate Cancer Patient: Consider Monitoring vs Surgery or Radiation, only if Life Expectancy is less than a Decade
Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN
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Rethinking Prostate Cancer, in THE MOST NOTABLE MEDICAL FINDINGS OF 2016
For many years, American physicians have screened their older male patients for prostate cancer by looking at the level of a particular protein in the blood. The protein, called prostate-specific antigen (P.S.A.), can indicate the presence of a tumor long before any symptoms materialize. Recently, though, there has been a movement within the medical community against P.S.A. testing; since prostate cancers typically grow very slowly and rarely cause discomfort, the thinking goes, early screening may not be all that useful. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, based on data from two large clinical trials, currently recommends against routine screening, but other expert groups (using the same evidence) have countered that men should be allowed to choose for themselves.
Now the dispute has become even more fraught. In October, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study by a group of British researchers that examined three classes of prostate-cancer patients: those who had received surgery, those who had received radiation therapy, and those whose disease had been carefully monitored without intervention. After ten years, there was no difference in survival rates among the three groups. Active treatment does not change the over-all risk of death, and this was the headline in most news reports. But largely overlooked in the press was that metastases, meaning spread of the cancer beyond the prostate gland to tissues in the pelvis and to bone, occurred three times more frequently in those being monitored than in those who received surgery or radiation. Not surprisingly, the cancer also progressed more quickly in these men.
In an editorial that accompanied the study, Anthony D’Amico, a radiation oncologist at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, argued that men should be informed of the risk of metastasis and of its consequences, particularly pelvic tumors and bone pain and fracture. D’Amico advises that men who wish to avoid metastases should consider monitoring, rather than surgery or radiation, only if their life expectancy is less than a decade. Having cared for many men with prostate cancer that metastasized—an incurable situation often marked by severe suffering—I strongly concur.
10-Year Outcomes after Monitoring, Surgery, or Radiotherapy for Localized Prostate Cancer
Treatment or Monitoring for Early Prostate Cancer
Matthew R. Cooperberg. . (2016) Re: 10-Year Outcomes After Monitoring, Surgery, or Radiotherapy for Localized Prostate Cancer. European Urology.
Jean-Jacques Mazeron. . (2016) Cancer de la prostate : to treat or not to treat ?. Bulletin du Cancer.