Active Surveillance (Watchful Waiting)
Active surveillance involves lifestyle change and careful monitoring of cancer with conversion to active therapy if the disease progresses. With this approach, patients have a digital rectal exam and PSA blood test every 6 - 12 months. If test results indicate cancer progression, doctor and patient consider treatment options (surgery, radiation, or drugs). Patients should exercise and eat healthy foods. Patients should report symptoms such as weight loss, pain, urinary problems, fatigue, or erectile dysfunction to their doctors. Active surveillance was formerly called “watchful waiting”. Watchful waiting is now mostly associated with palliative measures for advanced cancer.
Candidates. Active surveillance may be most appropriate for the following patients:
- Men in their late 70s and older. More aggressive therapies (surgery and radiation) are usually recommended for men in their 50s and younger. The choice for men in their 60s and early 70s is more problematic. The general recommendation is that aggressive therapy is suitable for those who have a life expectancy of more than 10 years and who have localized but mid- to high-grade tumors. The tumor grade may be the best guide for determining the risks in choosing watchful waiting.
- Elderly men with early-stage (T0 - T2) low-grade tumors.
- Men with low-to-moderate (3 - 13 ng/mL) PSA levels.
Some doctors think that because prostate cancer grows so slowly, it is likely that older men will die from causes unrelated to the cancer. There is therefore little potential benefit from surgery or radiation, with both posing a risk for erectile dysfunction and incontinence. The choice is a difficult one. It is important that patients find a doctor who can provide them with all the necessary information so that they can make an informed decision.
Review Date: 07/26/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.