Got Prostate Cancer? Don't Skip Your Regular Checkups

Sometimes, prostate cancer doesn’t need any treatment—at least not right away.


Medically reviewed in May 2019

Sometimes, prostate cancer doesn’t need any treatment—at least not right away. Because the tumor grows so slowly, doctors often choose to keep tabs on it over time, an approach called “active surveillance.” But one European study finds a flaw with this watchful waiting plan: A large number of men bail out of their regular checkups.

Action vs. reaction
The study followed 157 men diagnosed with prostate cancer throughout 13 years of active surveillance. Though 28 percent of those men needed treatment when their prostate cancer turned more aggressive—and the overall group survival rate was an impressive 94 percent—27 percent of men in the study skipped their regular checkups after being placed on active surveillance. That means they wouldn’t know if the disease had turned into a life-threatening problem. Another 19 percent decided to not follow through with a second biopsy several months after their diagnosis, which the doctors recommended to confirm the results of the first biopsy.

Related: Learn how your diet affects your risk of prostate cancer.

Scientists aren't sure why the men decided to forgo care, but they theorize that after the men learned their disease wasn't immediately life-threatening, they may have felt that further tests just weren’t important. Other possibilities: Some men may not want to know how severe their cancer is, or they may not want to deal with the possible side effects of surgery, like incontinence or impotence. The study was presented at the European Association of Urology annual meeting.

Scheduling regular checkups is key
According to the American Cancer Society, active surveillance typically involves checkups every three to six months. The doctor may do a PSA (“prostate specific antigen”) blood test and a rectal exam at each visit to see if the cancer has grown. Men may also need a yearly biopsy. Treatment can be started if one of these tests suggests the cancer is getting worse.

The study shows that men need to understand the importance of regular checkups following a prostate cancer diagnosis. But equally important is a man's will to follow through with those regular doctor visits. As the saying goes, "knowledge is power." And that means taking an active role—with your doctor and on your own—in how you manage the disease.

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