Treatment Options Are Many for Prostate Cancer
Friday, December 5, 2008; 12:00 AM
FRIDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- A diagnosis of prostate cancer may prompt an understandable feeling of dread, but patients actually have a wide array of options at their disposal for tackling the disease, medical experts say.
There are so many options that a man's quality of life should be considered strongly when weighing various procedures. In fact, a growing number of doctors say many prostate cancers are better off being left untreated.
"It's been said that more men die with prostate cancer than of prostate cancer," said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate cancer for the American Cancer Society. "For a significant number of these men, if they have other health problems that are likely to shorten their life span, in many instances they aren't likely to live long enough for the prostate cancer to cause them any problem."
The survival rate of prostate cancer is very high. Overall, 99 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive at least five years, according to the American Cancer Society.
Furthermore, 91 percent of all prostate cancers are found while they are still within the prostate or only in nearby areas. The five-year relative survival rate for those men is almost 100 percent.
"Prostate cancer is very survivable," said Dr. Terry Mason, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health and a volunteer member of the American Cancer Society Prostate Cancer Advisory Group. "It's a very treatable disease."
But depending on the type of treatment selected, a prostate cancer patient can suffer some rather uncomfortable side effects, among them impotence and incontinence.
Surgery that removes the tumor can result in impotence, if the nerves that control erection are damaged during the procedure, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. The patient also could suffer short-term incontinence while he recovers from surgery.
Radiation treatment can cause both bladder and bowel incontinence. It can also lead to impotence, although that effect does not take place immediately.
"Men may start out being sexually active, and then as the radiation scarring and damage develops over the next two to three years, there's a gradual decrease in the levels of potency," Brooks said. "With surgery, it's the opposite. There is some initial difficulty, and then things improve over time."
Within each type of treatment, there's also a menu of options with an array of pluses and minuses.
For example, surgical patients can opt for a "nerve-sparing" procedure less likely to interfere with sexual function. And radiation patients can choose between external beam treatment and brachytherapy, in which radioactive "seeds" are implanted in the tumor, according to the American Cancer Society.