The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Active Surveillance: Follow-Up Essential

A recent UCLA study found that a significant percentage of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer who chose "active surveillance," rather than aggressive treatment in order to avoid the debilitating side effects of surgery or radiation, don't follow up with the required tests and office visits.
This is an alarming finding, because not being monitored appropriately puts them in danger of the cancer progressing or metastasizing without their knowledge. Before patients decide on active surveillance as a management option for prostate cancer they should agree with their physician on a strict follow-up schedule to closely monitor the cancer.
There is no doubt in my mind that active surveillance is the smart treatment option for low-risk prostate cancer.  With other cancers, or if the prostate cancer is aggressive, the main issue is survival. But with low-risk prostate cancer, since long survival is the norm, the most important consideration is quality of life. Having said that, with active surveillance regular check-ups are essential, because when men are watched closely, treatment can be started at the first sign of cancer progression.
So what does active surveillance require? How exactly is it carried out?
Different centers have different requirements. At a 2007 Active Surveillance Conference, attended by over 200 of the world's leading prostate cancer experts, the attendees recommended a biopsy after one year, subsequently repeating it every two to three years. But as I have often said, I am not a fan of biopsies. So I prefer to recommend doing a repeat targeted biopsy only on the basis of a PSA and prostate imaging with either color Doppler ultrasound or 3T multi-parametric MRI.
Here is an Active Surveillance Protocol that Dr. Mark Scholz recommends:
  • PSA every three months
  • Rectal examination every 12 months
  • Color Doppler ultrasound annually
  • Multi-parametric MRI annually
Whatever protocol your urologist recommends you need to be committed to following it. It may be inconvenient or uncomfortable but the alternative is aggressive treatment that has the potential to leave you with erectile and urinary dysfunction.
There is always the consideration to just treat the cancer and be rid of it. But having lived with this disease for over two decades, with my prostate intact, I am a firm believer in avoiding radical treatment and preserving quality of life as long as possible. And if you have low-risk prostate cancer, bear in mind that the longer you can wait before you submit to radical treatment, the better the odds are that research in the field will have advanced, and treatment will have become more effective and less toxic.                                                                

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