"Watchful waiting" -- without specific treatment -- is the best therapy for certain kinds of cancers, two Stanford University researchers say.
The cancers in question are low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, which afflict about 10,000 people a year. In a study of 83 patients, the researchers found that early treatment had no effect on whether the disease progressed to a higher-risk cancer. "Early intensive therapies have not increased survival," the scientists report.
In 23 percent of the cases, there was spontaneous regression, or easing, of the disease without treatment.
"We have found that it is acceptable to wait and watch these select lymphoma patients and treat them when it's indicated rather than when the cancer is diagnosed," said Dr. Sandra Horning, who did the study with Dr. Saul Rosenberg.
"We just watch them very carefully," says the National Cancer Institute's Dr. Kenneth Foon, who also treats the disease. He said retiring Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) is among patients receiving the "watch and wait" treatment.
Only one other cancer -- chronic lymphatic leukemia, which affects mainly people over 60 -- is often left untreated in its early stages, Foon said.
The report appears in the Dec. 6 New England Journal of Medicine. An accompanying editorial says that "Watchful waiting is the accepted norm not because it is and will always be the best approach but because our current therapy is incapable of curing these diseases."