Too many are getting unnecessary prostate treatment, UCLA study says

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A UCLA study of U.S. men over 66 with slow-growing prostate cancer found that nearly half of those who are not expected to live long enough to benefit from surgery or radiation are nevertheless getting it, despite national guidelines to the contrary.

Because prostate cancer typically grows slowly, some men may never need treatment for it. That’s especially true for those with a life expectancy of less than ten years, due to other illness or advanced age.

According to the National Cancer Institute, those types of cases call for "watchful waiting" or "active surveillance," which mean close monitoring of a patient's condition without providing any treatment until symptoms appear or change, or if there is a change in test results. 

But the UCLA study found that many doctors are still opting for aggressive measures in these cases.

After reviewing the cases of 96,000 men with early-stage prostate cancer, UCLA's researchers found that more than half had life expectancies of less than ten years, and of those, half were receiving surgery, radiation or brachytherapy, the implantation of radioactive seeds in the prostate.

These treatments carry with them a high risk of erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence and bowel problems.

Researchers say the study underscores the need for integrating life expectancy into prostate cancer treatment decisions.

The findings are published in the Dec. 1 edition of the journal “Cancer.”