Active Surveillance May Help Low-Risk Prostate Cancer Patients Avoid Risky Treatments

Aside from potential drug trials, good news among cancer research is somewhat rare.  That is not to say that we are not making impressive strides to understand—and, hopefully, treat—the disease, but overall we are still only able to maintain the disease, at best, and not cure it.  And today’s news is more of the same—positive outcomes for maintaining cancer—but it will certainly be good news for those who have prostate cancer. 

The latest research indicates that men with low-risk prostate cancer may be able to reduce their need for radical prostatectomy by simply adding active-surveillance to their treatment plan.  Radical prostatectomy is the removing of parts of the prostate gland, which is typical of more advanced prostate cancers, and doctors are hoping to reduce its frequency. Indeed, then, the study shows that by simply increasing active surveillance, this procedure declined from 47.4 percent of cases in 2010 to 31.3 percent of cases in 2015.  In addition, though, radiotherapy (which is also not very desirable) declined from 38 percent in 2010 to 26.6 percent in 2015.

Harvard University Dana-Farber Cancer Institute clinical fellow in radiation oncology, Dr. Brandon Mahal explains that the research team found active surveillance use among low-risk prostate cancer patients almost tripled.  

The lead study author goes into further detail: “Overall, these numbers are a good sign and a good thing.  From 2010 to 2015, there’s been a lot of new evidence—the highest level of evidence we can get in medicine, which are prospective trials and some of them randomized trials—that have shown that active surveillance, conservative approaches, or non-treatment approaches of low-risk prostate cancer have very favorable outcomes.”

You may not realize this but prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer to affect men around the world.  In 2018, alone, the World Cancer Research Fund reported 1.3 million new prostate cancers, globally.  According to the United States National Cancer Institute, more than 11 percent of men (living in the US) will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. 

Of course, this is just a preliminary study, as there were limitations.  For one, the study only observed an isolated 5-year period. In addition, the study lacked data on other aspects of treatment.  Still, Mahal says, when you take into consideration all of the other existing studies, the outlook for this is promising and with further testing and study we will certainly know more.