(NaturalNews) Elderly men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer may want to skip out on getting treatment, suggests a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) discovered that aggressive cancer therapies like surgery and radiation provide no benefits for many elderly men, and may cause some of them to become sicker or die early.
The reason for this is that surgery and radiation are extremely harsh on the body, not to mention the fact that many elderly men with prostate cancer also have other health conditions that put them at higher risk of suffering adverse events. Based on the data, surgery and radiation provide little or no benefit for men who rank higher on the Charlson index, which measures the 10-year mortality rate for patients with multiple conditions.
Timothy Daskivich, a UCLA Robert Wood Johnson fellow, and his colleagues looked at 140,553 men aged 66 years or older who were diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer. All of the men had been diagnosed with the condition between 1991 and 2007 as part of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Medicare database, and some of them also suffered from other serious health conditions.
After assessing and ranking the men using the Charlson index, the team found that men with other major health conditions, including things like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and heart disease, did not fare any better than other men when receiving conventional treatment for prostate cancer. The mortality risk, in other words, was relatively equal across the board, indicating no positive effects from the treatment.
Besides providing no benefits, surgery and radiation often destroy men's bodies
At the same time, prostate cancer treatments come with very serious health risks, including the risk of impotence, urinary incontinence and bowel problems. Men who undergo these treatments not only increase their chances of suffering more health problems but also stand to gain little in terms of life extension, a finding which suggests that they are better off just eating healthy and living their lives as normal.
"In the past, we've relied on the basic argument that older and sicker men are much more likely to die of other things besides their prostate cancer that exposing them to aggressive treatment, and its debilitating side effects is a poor gamble," stated Daskivich. "Now we've shown that aggressive treatment of these men is ineffective. This information will help these men better maximize the quality of their remaining years."
The findings are especially applicable among men who are expected to die within 10 years or less, or who suffer from few other health conditions. Those men who ranked at a 3 or higher on the Charlson index -- that is, men with multiple co-morbidities -- saw absolutely no benefits, on average, from getting the treatment. Those with less than a 3, however, saw some improvements.
But overall, the indication is that undergoing prostate cancer treatments is more troublesome and risky for elderly men than it is actually worth, and that going a different route may be more beneficial. Despite its weak points, the new study reiterates the importance of carefully thinking through what prostate cancer treatments involve before agreeing to receive them.
"The guidelines suggest the men with life expectancies of less than 10 years shouldn't be treated aggressively, but life expectancy is difficult to measure accurately," added Daskivich. "This data clearly defines a subset of patients who should avoid therapies that will only cause them problems they don't already have."