Prostate Cancer Overview

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Treating Prostate Cancer TOPICS

Expectant management (watchful waiting) and active surveillance for prostate cancer

Because prostate cancer often grows very slowly, some men (especially those who are older or who have other major health problems) may never need treatment for their cancer. Instead, their doctor may suggest approaches called watchful waiting (also called expectant management) or active surveillance. These are used for early prostate cancers.

Some doctors use these terms to mean the same thing. For other doctors the terms mean something slightly different:

Active surveillance is often used to mean watching the cancer closely with PSA blood tests, digital rectal exams (DREs), and ultrasounds at regular intervals to see if the cancer is growing. Prostate biopsies may be done as well to see if the cancer is starting to grow faster. If there is a change in your test results, your doctor would then talk to you about treatment options.

Watchful waiting is sometimes used to describe a less intensive type of follow-up that may mean fewer tests and relying more on changes in a man's symptoms to decide if treatment is needed.

No matter which term your doctor may use, it is very important to understand exactly what he or she means when they refer to it.

Either of these methods may be a good choice if the cancer is not causing any symptoms, is likely to grow slowly, and is small and contained in the prostate. It is less often a choice if you are young and healthy, or have a cancer that is likely to grow fast (based on the Gleason score).

Some men choose this approach because they feel that the side effects of treatment outweigh the benefits. Others are willing to accept the possible side effects of active treatment in order to try to remove or destroy the cancer.

Last Medical Review: 08/27/2013
Last Revised: 09/12/2014