If, like a growing number of men, you have been having regular prostate screening which has picked up the possibility of prostate cancer, and this has subsequently been confirmed with a biopsy, then you are probably lucky enough to have caught the cancer early when it is still confined to the prostate gland and in what is called Stage I or Stage II. If this is the case then one possible course of treatment might be ‘watchful waiting’.
Some people feel that it is slightly odd to call watchful waiting a form of treatment because, as the name suggests, you simply watch the cancer and wait to see what happens. Other names for this approach are ‘observation’ and ‘surveillance’. So when would this approach be appropriate?
As long as your cancer is confined to the prostate gland you are generally fairly safe and it is not until it threatens to spread beyond the prostate that your doctor will become concerned. So, if like many prostate cancer cases your cancer is both confined to the prostate gland and growing very slowly there is no need for immediate action and it is often safe to simply take some time and see how it develops.
Now if you are getting on in years and in this situation watchful waiting may well be a very good option because if the cancer is growing slowly enough there is a very good chance that you will die from old age, or some other condition, before it gets to be a problem. In these circumstances you might well feel that it would be silly to put yourself through surgery or radiation therapy for little if any real gain. So, in this case you would simply visit your physician at regular intervals for him to keep an eye on things and do nothing at all unless a problem arises.
If however you are still a reasonably young and otherwise fit man then watchful waiting might again be a sensible approach for a while but it may not always be such a good idea in the longer term, not least because, even though your cancer may be growing very slowly, you are still reducing your control of the disease the larger your cancer becomes and this may cause a problem if and when you are forced to deal with it.
Dealing with prostate cancer, whether by surgery or radiation treatment, is best done when the cancer is small and when you are in the best position to cope with treatment and recovery. The older you get the more likely it is that complications will arise from your treatment or that you will have difficulty in recovering following treatment.
Another very important consideration is the way in which you cope with watchful waiting mentally. For some men simply sitting back and doing nothing knowing that they have a cancer growing in their prostate gland can be very stressful indeed. However, for other men the fact that they have cancer doesn’t bother them at all as long as they know that it is slow growing, confined and being monitored regularly.
At the end of the day you must clearly be guided by your physician, but whether you choose to live with your prostate cancer or to seek treatment for it is, and always should be, very much a personal decision.