Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Length of survival and causes of death in men with prostate cancer

For many men, a diagnosis of cancer may seem like a death sentence. That's no surprise. Cancer can be a dreadful disease, and it remains the second leading cause of death in America, taking some 560,000 lives a year. But once the shock of a cancer diagnosis begins to wear off, patients should realize that cancer is not one disease, but many. Some, like cancer of the pancreas, are very bad actors indeed, while others, like many malignancies of the lymph system, respond beautifully to medical therapy. And prostate cancer belongs to a third category, since this most common internal malignancy of men can sometimes be aggressive and deadly, but is more often slow growing and indolent.

It's natural for a man with prostate cancer to worry about dying from the disease, and it's important for every patient to explore all his treatment options. Still, fear of prostate cancer can have unintended side effects, including depression and anxiety that sap energy and interfere with quality of life. And a diagnosis of prostate cancer can also distract both the patient and his doctors from attending to other important diseases.

In fact, one study reports that other diseases are often a greater threat than prostate cancer itself.

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