One out of every six men will suffer from prostate cancer. The disease is common but it’s also, in most cases, slow to progress. For many men, especially those who are older and suffering from other health conditions, opting for aggressive treatments may do more harm than good.
Treating prostate cancer aggressively often involves undergoing radiation and even removing the prostate completely. These treatments can cause side effects including urinary incontinence. A patient may experience problems that include leaking, loss of bladder control, and pain when urinating. These symptoms are typically caused by damage to the nerves and muscles that control urinary flow.
Erectile dysfunction is also a big concern for men who undergo radiation or a prostatectomy. The nerves and blood vessels surrounding the area of the surgery are very intricate and fragile. Even when medical professionals manage to spare this complex network of nerves, men can have difficulty having an erection. The same is true for radiation. Regardless of whether a dose of radiation is precisely calculated to kill cancer cells and yet somehow leave everything else untouched, erectile dysfunction can still be a side effect.
Avoiding these symptoms altogether may make sense for men who are older and already suffering from serious heart disease, for example. Because prostate cancer tends to be slow-moving, it may be less disruptive to leave the cancer alone than to treat it and suffer through side effects.
This approach to prostate tumors has recently been studied by a team of researchers. The researchers set out to see what effects age, tumor characteristics, and other illnesses had on the risk of dying from prostate cancer. They also factored in the risk of dying from other health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. They looked at data that covered a 14-year span.
What did the researchers find? They discovered that the risk of dying from high-risk prostate cancer was 18%. The risk of dying from low-risk prostate cancer was much lower at three percent. As for other diseases affecting patients with prostate cancer, the risk of dying was seven percent. The research team was able to conclude, based on their findings, that the risk of dying from another health condition was seven percent. Men who were between the ages of 61 and 74 years and who had three or more other health conditions were 40% more likely to die within 10 years of getting a prostate cancer diagnosis. For those 75 years and up, that number rose to 71%.
Doctors will need to step in and help patients determine their life expectancy. The decision to go through with prostate cancer treatments needs to be weighed with the risk of mortality from other health conditions. Of course, the nature of the prostate cancer needs to be factored in as well. We’ve put together a list of the four reasons why prostate screening may be harmful—take a look and make the decision for yourself.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Daskivich, T.J., et al., “Effect of age, tumor risk, and comorbidity on competing risks for survival in a U.S. Population-based cohort of men with prostate cancer,” Ann Intern Med. May 21, 2013; 158(10): 709-17.
“Cancer Facts and Figures – 2012,” The American Cancer Society web site; http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2013/index, last accessed May 23, 2013.