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Prostate Cancer (cont.)

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What about herbal or other alternative medicine treatments for prostate cancer?

Alternative medicine, also called integrative or complementary medicine, includes such non-traditional treatments as herbs, dietary supplements, and acupuncture. A major problem with most herbal treatments is that their composition is not standardized. Moreover, the way herbal treatments work and their long-term side effects usually are not known. Currently, there is no evidence to prove that these medications have any therapeutic benefit in prostate cancers that have become resistant to conventional treatments.

What is active surveillance for prostate cancer?

Active surveillance is observing a patient while no immediate treatment is given. Such a patient usually has a less aggressive, small-sized, organ-confined tumor and no symptoms. This management strategy is based on the premise that most early prostate cancers are slow-growing tumors and will remain confined to the prostate gland for a significant length of time. This implies that in selected patients it may be possible to defer definitive treatment for many years or avoid it altogether thereby preventing the side effects associated with treatments like surgery or radiation. Understand, however, that although active surveillance involves no actual treatment, the patient still needs close follow-up and monitoring. The follow-up involves frequent visits to the doctor, perhaps every three to six months. The visits include questions about new or worsening symptoms and digital rectal examinations for any change in the prostate gland. In addition, blood tests are done to watch for a rising PSA, and imaging studies can be conducted to detect the spread of the cancer. Most experts also recommend performing a confirmatory set of prostate biopsies to ensure that there is low-volume disease. Additional prostate biopsy is required every year to detect any increase in the volume and Gleason grade of the cancer. As mentioned before, Gleason grade is a measure of aggressiveness of the tumor and increase in this value may point toward a need to treat the cancer with other means. If the history, examinations, or any of the tests signal the possibility of an advancing cancer, the active surveillance usually is discontinued and active treatment is recommended, often with radiotherapy or surgery.

Active surveillance is different from watchful waiting. Watchful waiting means following up patients without any tests or biopsies and treating them only when symptoms arise. This is reserved for men who have a life expectancy of less than 10 years. Therefore, watchful waiting seems to make sense for organ-confined (localized) prostate cancers in men who are elderly. Additionally, watchful waiting often is the most appropriate choice in men who are ill with other serious medical diseases, such as heart or lung disease, poorly controlled high blood pressure, diabetes, AIDS, or other cancers.

Active surveillance and watchful waiting in prostate cancer are becoming less controversial options for prostate cancer management either in the case of low-grade, organ-confined prostate cancers, or in patients not otherwise appropriate for more aggressive therapy. Guidelines are being developed for when to use these approaches, and they are appropriate for patients to discuss with their doctors.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2013

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