Anxiety may lead to unneeded treatments for prostate cancer

Anxiety may lead to unneeded treatments for prostate cancer

After the initial shock of receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer, some men may let their stress and anxiety over the disease overrule them on making better choices regarding appropriate treatment. This is what recent research concluded from more than 1,500 men who were newly diagnosed with localized prostate cancer.

What was found was the majority of men suffering from anxiety and distress were more likely to choose surgery and radiation therapy over another form of treatment called active surveillance.  Even though there was an association between anxiety and more aggressive treatment, it didn’t prove cause and effect.

Active surveillance also known as “watchful waiting” is a clinically viable option without any of the side effects that can come with surgery or radiation.   Years ago active surveillance used to be where a man who was diagnosed with localized prostate cancer – cancer that had not spread and was considered slow growing – would simply live his life if or until he developed symptoms and then those symptoms were treated.  Active surveillance of today is a means of closely monitoring a man with the approach of using regular doctor visits with a prostate specific antigen blood test and digital rectal exam about every 6 months.  Prostate biopsies may be done every year as well.  If there are any changes to the test results, a doctor will then talk to a man about other treatment options.

This study found that the more emotional distress a man was experiencing after his diagnosis even of low-risk prostate cancer, the more likely he was to choose more aggressive treatment of surgery or radiation.  Men with localized, low-risk prostate cancer are given the option of active surveillance as it is considered to be a clinically viable option avoiding the side effects from more aggressive and invasive treatments.

One concern of choosing surgery or radiation over active surveillance is the side effects of erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.  These situations can be avoided in men with low-risk prostate cancer by choosing active surveillance. 

The results from this study may help physicians to better identify and help men who are experiencing a great deal of distress and anxiety on dealing with their diagnosis.  If a man’s distress is influencing his treatment choice, this is where a physician can intervene by providing information that is understandable about the patient’s prostate cancer which can help improve and reduce invasive treatment procedures that can lead to overtreatment and unnecessary side effects. 

 The ultimate goal is to help improve the treatment decision-making process to help improve a man’s quality of life.