Harvard Men's Health Watch

An option for low-risk prostate cancer

For some men, the smartest move after diagnosis may be to delay treatment and carefully watch the progression of the cancer.

After a prostate biopsy confirms cancer, the next step might seem obvious: get treatment as soon as possible, either by removing the prostate gland entirely (radical prostatectomy) or zapping it with radiation. But immediate treatment is not the only option or necessarily the best one. Treatment itself can cause more harm in the long run than the cancer. Some men with early low-risk prostate cancers can choose to hold off on the decision to treat until the disease presents a greater threat. Then the cancer can still be treated effectively. The approach is called active surveillance with delayed intention to treat.

"With active surveillance, we continue to monitor the cancer very closely to get a grasp on its behavior before committing to treatment," says Dr. Marc Garnick, a prostate cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "For many men, active surveillance makes more sense than immediate treatment. It allows them to avoid the potential harms and uncertain benefits of treating a low-risk cancer."

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »