What is Watchful Waiting?
If you are coping with prostate cancer, you may believe the only solution is fast and aggressive treatment. But for some patients, this is not always the most beneficial course of action. Many men with prostate cancer will not need treatment at all, and this is where alternative options such as watchful waiting come in.
Watchful waiting is a way of monitoring and managing pre-cancerous conditions or slow-growing cancers, such as prostate cancer. The method involves closely observing a patient’s condition without providing active treatments, such as radio or hormone therapy.
These treatments are only recommended if certain symptoms should appear or develop during the watchful waiting process.In a society so familiar with active or immediate disease treatment, an approach like this may sound unusual.
But it is far from simply ‘doing nothing’. A patient agreeing to watchful waiting may still require regular check-ups, blood tests, and scans. The process also involves spotting and recording any symptoms, changes or issues experienced over a period of time.
This can lead to recognizing harmful signs of prostate cancer early on and dealing with them quickly. As the name implies, watchful waiting is about being aware of prostate cancer and any potential developments that can occur. And there are several huge benefits to this approach.
What are the Benefits?
A major advantage of watchful waiting is this: No side effects.
A stigma surrounding cancer treatments is the side effects they can cause. And while a majority of these side effects are not long-lasting, they can sometimes be unpleasant. For example, radiotherapy is a common treatment for prostate cancer.
But the potential downsides such as sore skin, hair loss, and fatigue may be off-putting to some patients.
Patients with more serious conditions are more likely to be directed towards treatments like radiotherapy. But watchful waiting is particularly recommended for the following:
- Patients with early or slow-growing signs of prostate cancer: conditions that are not causing immediate symptoms or health concerns.
- Patients aged 50+, or patients with pre-existing health problems, who may be less able to cope with certain therapies.
Watchful waiting can keep prostate cancer in check without needing to go through unnecessary, immediate treatments. And this can be a lifelong benefit.
This leads us to the next benefit: low cost.
This advantage speaks for itself. Because there are few biopsies and other such treatments involved in watchful waiting, it is the cheapest approach by far.
And it may have psychological benefits.
With no side effects or high expenses, watchful waiting has psychological benefits as well as physical.
Dr. Julia Hayes at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, conducted research that focused on patients with early prostate cancer.
She weighed the lifestyle benefits of watchful waiting against those of more active treatments like radiotherapy.
Hayes found that watchful waiting seemed to improve patients’ quality of life, as well as their attitudes towards their condition. She concluded that this outcome was because watchful waiting involves less testing, less intensive monitoring, and fewer hospital visits overall.
Watchful waiting means fewer hospital visits.
Transport to and from hospitals can be a concern for many people, especially during the winter months.
Since watchful waiting does not include therapies or surgeries, it can significantly reduce the number of hospital visits needed.
In some cases, watchful waiting can simply involve keeping an at-home record of any changes or symptoms.
It is therefore a particular benefit for patients who are less able to travel. However, it is recommended to make an appointment if any problems or concerning symptoms arise during the watchful waiting process.
Less risk of developing resistance to future medications and therapies.
Resistance occurs when a disease becomes tolerant to certain medications or therapies. And undergoing a treatment over a period of time creates the possibility of developing this resistance.
Thus, as a patient’s body becomes accustomed to a particular treatment, the effectiveness of it can begin to wear off.
Watchful waiting is all about observation and awareness. Because the patient does not undergo medication or therapy, the cancer does not develop a resistance to them. Therefore, if certain symptoms do begin to appear or change, there is a greater chance for possible treatments to take effect and combat them in the future.
Should I choose watchful waiting?
Generally, watchful waiting can provide peace of mind for those with early signs of prostate cancer. The approach revolves around being alert to the possible changes and symptoms, and this can also mean identifying and dealing with the cancer before it has a chance to develop.
Watchful waiting and its benefits can massively improve prostate health and awareness for patients in the long run. But it is important to take the time and familiarise yourself with the pros and cons if you are considering this approach.
It may be helpful to speak with others who are in a similar situation or who have experienced watchful waiting before. Their input may determine whether watchful waiting is the right step for you to take personally.
Remember: If you are unsure about moving forward with watchful waiting, always seek advice from your doctor and discuss all available options.
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