Most men found to have early-stage prostate cancer will live just as long if they simply monitor rather than have them surgically removed, according to a clinical trial focusing on a disease that affects 1 in 6 men.
However, nearly twice as many men who had surgery reported incontinence and impotence after two years, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"These are very compelling data," said Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancers at the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the research.
Both he and study author Dr. Timothy Wilt of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine said the results suggest that many men who have received surgery in the past probably didn't need it. "I don't think there's any question that many of those cancers were overtreated," said Brooks, who stressed that there is no way to know on an individual basis.
Prostate cancer is the second-leading killer in men, with more than 240,000 new diagnoses and 28,000 deaths every year. While many doctors still screen for the disease, more and more medical organizations are recommending against routinely doing so. And even with a cancer diagnosis, it's not clear that aggressive treatments such as surgery or radiation are always helpful.
That's because treatments have side effects, whereas the tumor might never have caused problems if left alone.