When Is “Watchful Waiting” The Best Prostate Cancer Treatment Option?

If you or your spouse recently received the sobering diagnosis of prostate cancer, you may be wondering about your next steps—and understandably confused if the treating oncologist doesn't appear to share your urgency in hurrying forward with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. In fact, many physicians will initially recommend a "watchful waiting" approach for certain types of prostate cancers that are detected in the early stages, monitoring progress to ensure the cancer doesn't spread rather than taking more extreme measures to eradicate it immediately. Is this the right choice for you? Read on to learn more about this slow-growing cancer to help you decide whether a "watchful waiting" approach is the best treatment in your situation.

What makes prostate cancer unique?

There are few cancers that are given the watchful-waiting approach as often as prostate cancer, and this is largely due to its slow growth and even slower metastasis. Despite its relative commonness among cancer diagnoses, it boasts an amazing 5-year survival rate of nearly 99 percent—taking much of the sting out of the scary word "cancer." This high survival rate is because prostate cancer generally reveals itself well before cancer cells begin cropping up in your lymph nodes, putting most new diagnoses in the coveted Stage 1 category rather than the more serious stages 2 through 4. Difficulties urinating, frequent urination, and other symptoms of prostate problems will usually become severe enough to interfere with daily activities before the cancer begins to spread.

How can you decide whether watchful waiting is the right approach for your cancer?

As with any other life-changing healthcare decisions, it's wise to get a second opinion on your cancer's status—but if you've received the go-ahead to wait from two or more oncologists, this is likely because your cancer is so slow-growing that treatment would be harder on you than continued monitoring. 

If your physician has recommended watchful waiting for you or your spouse, you'll want to ensure you keep careful track of any change in or worsening of symptoms, as this could indicate tumor growth that may need to be examined. You'll also want to be sure to keep your monitoring appointments and avoid rescheduling if possible—after all, watchful waiting is only successful when the "watching" portion is adhered to carefully, and missing even a single PET scan or white blood cell count could be the difference between an easy and tough treatment regimen if your cancer does begin to spread. 

For more information on prostate cancer treatment, contact a doctor at a location such as Unity Urology PC.