(NaturalNews) Controversial radio personality Don Imus just announced he has prostate cancer. He's certainly not alone. In fact prostate cancer is the most common cancer, other than skin cancers, in American men. About 186,320 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed last year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). However, a diagnosis of prostate cancer isn't an automatic death sentence -- ACS statistics show that although about one in 6 men will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime, only one in 35 will actually die from the cancer. And new research shows that a diagnosis of prostate cancer also doesn't automatically mean all men even need treatment, such as often grueling chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery which can cause serious long-term side effects such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
A multi-center study of men with prostate cancer, published in the current issue of Journal of Urology recommends that some men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer can opt out of receiving initial treatment, and if their malignancy is closely monitored, remain safe. "Low-risk" prostate cancers are those that are at minimal risk of progressing or spreading to other parts of the body. The study suggests "watchful waiting" can be a sensible approach after two separate biopsies are performed to determine if a man's prostate cancer falls into the "low-risk" group.
The study addresses an important question for men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer and at minimal risk of cancer progression or metastases: when should they be actively treated and when can they simply be treatment-free and closely monitored for any changes down the road? The scientists found that separate biopsies are key to determining the optimal selection of patients for active surveillance, also known as "watchful waiting", when men decide not to undergo immediate treatment.
"When or if to treat men with low-risk prostate cancer has always been a challenging question that faces patients and urologists. Some men may be rushing into treatment that won't necessarily benefit them, prevent problems, or prolong life. Close observation in certain patients may provide and maintain quality of life without increasing the chances of the cancer spreading," said study author Scott Eggener, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago Medical Center, in a statement to the media.
Dr. Eggener added that an estimated 20 to 50 percent of men in the U.S. who are diagnosed with prostate cancer will eventually die from other causes -- not from their prostate cancer. Bottom line: a large number of men clearly do not benefit from standard medical treatments and may, in fact, be harmed by the side effects.
The study was conducted at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center, the University of Miami, Cleveland Clinic, and University of British Columbia between 1991 and 2007. The researchers studied 262 men from 4 hospitals in the U.S. and Canada who were all under the age of 75 and had a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that registered below 10 ng/ml. Other criteria for the research subjects included being diagnosed with a cancer at clinical stage T1-T2a and having 3 or fewer positive cores at diagnostic biopsy. The study participants underwent a repeat biopsy and then had no treatment for six months. After that period, they were given physical exams and PSA tests every six months; they were also advised to undergo biopsies every one to 2 years.
Forty-three of the men eventually decided to go ahead with treatment. Or they had evidence their cancer was progressing, so their doctors advised starting treatment. All but one were cured of their cancer, despite having waited to undergo surgery or radiation. The rest of the 219 patients in the research group continued "watchful waiting" without any treatment and showed no evidence of metastases (spread of the cancer to other parts of the body). "Active surveillance with delayed treatment, if necessary, for select patients appears to be safe and associated with a low risk of metastatic spread," the study concluded.
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.