Each year in the U.S., approximately 241,000 men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis, and one out of every six men will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives, according to statistics compiled by the American Cancer Society. Prostate cancer mainly afflicts the country’s senior population, as nearly two thirds of men diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 65. The disease ranks as the second leading cause of death due to cancer, behind only lung cancer, as one out of every 36 men will succumb to the disease.
Treatment options for the disease usually range from surgery to chemotherapy to a prostatectomy during Stage III development. But now the recently released results of a decades-long study suggest that some men with prostate cancer can actually avoid turning to surgery in their fight against the disease.
The report, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that men who had their prostates removed as part of their cancer treatment had no better odds of survival than men who did not undergo surgery. Researchers found that men who possessed low levels of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA), a protein produced by prostate cells found in the bloodstream that acts as a marker for the disease, and whose prostate cancer was localized were at no greater risk of dying from the disease if they waited to have surgery until their cancer further developed.
The findings of the study contrast significantly with practices primarily used to treat prostate cancer. Even though two-thirds of all men who receive a prostate cancer diagnosis fall into the category of having a localized tumor and low PSA levels, nearly 90 percent undergo surgery or radiotherapy to treat the disease.
To draw these conclusions, the study examined the health of 731 men who’d received a prostate cancer diagnosis between 1994 and 2002. Study participants were randomly assigned whether to have their prostates removed or to undergo observation management to see if their disease would spread. After 10 years, less than half the men in each group had died.
Responding to the study’s conclusion, the American Cancer Society agreed that overtreatment of prostate cancer had become common practice in the medical community. Researchers estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of men with prostate cancer could be candidates for observational management during the early stages of their disease. During observational management, patients and doctors wait to determine if the cancer begins to progress or spread prior to undergoing extreme treatment options such as radiation therapy or surgery.
However, researchers were quick to point out that surgery saves the lives of many patients whose cancer has advanced and spread. The study’s conclusions only apply to patients with low-risk prostate cancer. Researchers also concluded that the subject needs more study, but early results could help to influence how men are treated for this form of cancer in the future.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer who blogs about the latest health news for Dr. Jeremy Dixon, a dentist in Longview Washington at Smiles Dental.