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Survival Improves for Prostate Cancer

Study Shows Improvements in Death Rate for Men Who Choose Not to Have Surgery or Radiation
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

Watchful Waiting

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.

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