Survival Improves for Prostate Cancer
Study Shows Improvements in Death Rate for Men Who Choose Not to Have Surgery or Radiation
Sept. 15, 2009 -- Older men with early prostate cancer are far more likely to survive their
disease without surgery or radiation today than they were just a few decades
ago, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed outcomes among men older than 65 diagnosed with
localized prostate cancer after the introduction of
prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening.
The death rate from prostate cancer within 10 years of diagnosis among men
who did not have surgery or radiation was 2% to 6% in the 1990s.
This compares to disease-specific death rates of 15% to 23% in similarly
aged men with similar disease characteristics who chose not have these
treatments in the pre-PSA era.
PSA has been widely used as a screening tool for prostate cancer since the
late 1980s and the test has unquestionably changed the face of the disease,
with far more patients now diagnosed with early-stage cancers.
But critics say PSA screening saves few lives and has led to unnecessary
treatment for millions of men. Findings from several recent studies appear to
have bolstered the claim.
The new study, which appears in Wednesday's edition of The Journal of the
American Medical Association, included older men with early-stage prostate
cancer who initially chose active surveillance -- also known as watchful
waiting -- instead of treatment with surgery or radiation.
Compared to men diagnosed before the PSA era, those who opted for active
surveillance between 1992 and 2002 were 60% to 74% less likely to die of their
disease within a decade of diagnosis.
"Watchful waiting is a reasonable option for older men with localized
disease, but not many men choose it," study researcher Grace L. Lu-Yao, PhD,
tells WebMD. "The natural reaction when someone hears they have cancer is to
think they have to do something about it."
By one estimate, fewer than 10% of patients who are candidates for active
surveillance decide to forgo or delay treatment with surgery or radiation.
Lu-Yao says it is more and more evident that this approach may be preferable
to curative treatment in older men and in younger men with health conditions
that are likely to kill them before the slow-growing cancer does.
The average age of the men in her study at diagnosis was 78.
Along with colleagues at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Robert
Wood Johnson Medical School, Lu-Yao examined outcomes among the men who were
followed for a median of 8.3 years.
All the men had early-stage prostate cancers and none had surgery or
radiation within six months of diagnosis.
Men with early-stage, good to moderate prognosis disease were six times more
likely to die of some other cause than their prostate cancer.
The death rate from prostate cancer within a decade of diagnosis was around
25% without surgery or radiation among patients with the most aggressive