WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Men in their 70s and older who are diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer can safely “watch and wait” because they are not likely to die of it, researchers confirmed on Wednesday.
Their findings, presented at a meeting of specialists, backs up the widely held belief that prostate cancer rarely kills men if it strikes late in life. Something else will kill them first, said Grace Lu-Yao of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
Her study of more than 9,000 older men with prostate cancer that had not spread showed that just 3 to 7 percent of the men with low or moderate-grade tumors died of it after 10 years.
“Because prostate cancer therapies are associated with significant side effects, our data can help patients make better informed decisions about the most appropriate approach for them and potentially avoid treatment without adversely affecting their health,” Lu-Yao said in a statement.
She stressed that men who choose not to undergo treatment should be carefully watched to make sure their cancer does not spread or become more aggressive.
Doctors have been debating when and whether to treat men with prostate cancer, because the disease often comes in a slow-growing form.
Tests that look for a compound called prostate specific antigen or PSA can detect cancer six to 13 years before men experience symptoms such as an enlarged prostate.
Eventually 2,675 of the men did get treated for the cancer, with either surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or radiation, but they waited on average more than 10 years, the researchers told the meeting sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and the Society of Urologic Oncology.
A second study presented at the meeting showed radiation therapy can help save the lives of men whose PSAs start rising after they have had their prostates removed — a sign the cancer has come back.
So-called salvage radiotherapy reduced the risk of dying from prostate cancer by more than 60 percent, the team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore said.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cancer killer of men after lung cancer and will be diagnosed in 218,000 men in the United States alone this year. Globally, some 782,600 men will be diagnosed with the disease and 254,000 will die from it.
Reporting by Maggie Fox and Todd Eastham