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Ask Dr. Nandi: UK study finds some prostate cancer patients can delay aggressive treatment

Posted at 5:09 PM, Mar 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 17:35:36-04

(WXYZ) — A new study is now showing most people with prostate cancer can delay or avoid harsh treatments.

The long-running study in the UK found those who partnered with their doctors to keep an eye on their low to intermediate-risk tumors slashed their risk of life-altering complications.

This study has been running for more than two decades. Just over 1,600 men diagnosed with low- to intermediate-risk prostate tumors participated.

Now, the men in the study were split into three groups:

  • the surgery group - meaning the prostate and tumors were removed
  • the radiation treatment group - where participants underwent radiation to shrink the tumors,
  • or the active monitoring group - meaning blood tests were done to watch PSA levels. PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, the men in the monitoring group who did not have treatment avoided the risk of complications that could happen with treatment.

Complications can be life-changing and include urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, anxiety, and depression. Now, cancer did spread a bit more in the active monitoring group - 9.4% versus 4.7% of the surgery group and 5% of the radiation group. But, most importantly, there was no difference in prostate cancer mortality. Across the three groups, there was a 97% survival rate at 15 years. And that's fantastic news.

Technology constantly changes, and there are new treatments like intensity-modulated radiation therapy, brachytherapy as well as robot-assisted surgeries. Nonetheless, there is research that shows the outcomes are similar to this British study.

As for men with high-risk or more advanced disease, they need urgent treatment. While most prostate cancers grow at a slow pace - it can take up to 10 years before symptoms like trouble urinating and blood in the urine develop - the cancer can be aggressive in about 10 to 15 percent of cases. And about 2.5% of all men diagnosed will die.

So, it's important that men between the ages of 55 and 69 talk to their physician about PSA testing. There is not a one-size fits all recommendation, rather it's an individualized approach. But the good news is that if prostate cancer is diagnosed and the cancer is in the early stages, then there is time to consider the pros and cons of treatment. And whether or not it can be delayed or even avoided.