Hearing the words, “you have prostate cancer” is enough to send ANY man down a dark tunnel of anxiety and depression, worry and despair.
And with good reason…
Mainstream solutions—like surgery and radiation—can have lasting impacts on your quality of life in both the bathroom…and the bedroom.
But these life-changing treatments aren’t your only options.
There’s the more conservative approach of “active surveillance” (also known as “watchful waiting”). And choosing this option may help ease your emotions while also giving you the prostate treatment you deserve.
Here’s everything you need to know…
Watchful waiting makes sense for low-risk prostate cancers
As I often warn, the mainstream suffers from a massive overdiagnosis and overtreatment problem. Especially when it comes to dealing with prostate cancer.
This occurs when prostate findings get labeled as “cancer,” but the condition doesn’t actually behave like cancer. Meaning it doesn’t invade and spread to distant parts of the body or cause death. And even if left completely alone, the cells in question wouldn’t have shortened the man’s life. (Remember, most men with these findings die with prostate cancer…NOT because of it.)
Some experts now insist that we shouldn’t even call this kind of benign condition “cancer”!
That’s why, for low-risk cases, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) now recommend men adopt a sensible, watchful waiting approach instead.
Watchful waiting means doctors should monitor men suspected of having a prostate condition that may (or may not) eventually turn out to be cancerous—instead of immediately subjecting them to dangerous and invasive procedures and treatments with life-long side effects.
Yet, many men and their doctors today still opt for an active approach (over watchful waiting), thinking it will lessen their feelings of anxiety and depression.
But a new study actually just squashed that false assumption…
Prostate cancer diagnosis brings up a flood of emotions
For this new study, researchers with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at psychological response over time in two groups of men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The first group underwent active treatment—which included complete surgical removal of the prostate or radiation. The second group adopted a watchful waiting approach.
The researchers also measured anxiety and depression levels in both groups of men at the study’s outset and again after 12 months (on average).
It turns out, the overall incidence of anxiety was 16 percent in both groups. (Meaning 16 percent of men in both groups experienced anxiety at least once during the study period.)
This finding isn’t too surprising, though. Because just the act of receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis (aside from the treatments themselves) can cause serious anxiety. I’ve witnessed it firsthand.
And when it came to depression, the overall incidence was just 10 percent in the watchful waiting group, compared to 15 percent in the active treatment group (which represents a 50 percent higher incidence).
Again, this finding makes a lot of sense, because the aggressive treatments used on the active treatment group (removal of the prostate and radiation) are associated with serious physical side effects, such as decreases in libido and sexual dysfunction, which can lead to depression.
It takes time to cope with feelings—no matter your approach
Fortunately, 12 months after the study’s outset, both groups of men showed some improvement in anxiety scores (by 13 percent in the watchful waiting group and by 16 percent in the active treatment group).
When it came to depression scores, however, both groups of men showed fewer improvements after 12 months. Specifically, the watchful waiting group experienced a 2 percent improvement, and the active treatment group experienced a 4 percent improvement.
Of course, it would have been nice to see those depression scores improve more.
But it’s still important to note that depression rates in the active treatment group didn’t significantly differ from the watchful waiting group. Indeed, in their conclusion, the researchers stated, “Anxiety and depression may be present following diagnosis and at the 12-month follow-up regardless of active surveillance [watchful waiting] or active treatment choice.”
That means, even if men decide to undergo active treatment, their rates of anxiety and depression don’t improve any faster (or more significantly) than the watchful waiting group. In other words, men don’t appear to benefit psychologically by putting themselves in the hands of surgeons or radiation therapists to carry out radical prostate treatments.
One might think, conventionally, that receiving an active treatment would be reassuring. And that it would help take a load off the minds of the men who went ahead with the radical, aggressive treatments—rather than dealing with the perceived stress and worry of simply waiting it out.
But clearly, active treatment isn’t everything some claim it to be, in more ways than one.
It makes me think of the old admonition I often heard in the operating room during my training: “Don’t just stand there, do something.”
But as I often report, frequently doing nothing is an equally good option. And sometimes, it’s even the better option! Especially when it comes to the psychological issues that accompany a diagnosis of prostate cancer.
The study also makes me think of Sonnet 19 by John Milton (1608 – 1674), the English poet laureate who penned Paradise Lost:
When I consider how my light is spent…
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent…
They also serve who only stand and wait.
Milton might well have been writing about the dilemma faced by men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Because standing and (watchful) waiting is a good plan in many cases. It helps them avoid the many physical complications associated with active treatments. And, as this study shows, they won’t be any worse for worry while they wait.
In the end, we need much more research like this into the problem of prostate cancer. Because, sadly, it gets just a small fraction of the attention and funding given to breast cancer. Not to mention, so much of the research on prostate cancer that does exist has been completely flawed!
I talked all about the tragedy of prostate cancer research in the June 2018 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“The big fat reason why so much prostate cancer research is flawed”). Subscribers have full access to that issue, and more, in my archives. So, if you haven’t yet become a subscriber, click here now!
P.S. Tune back in tomorrow for an important report about the dangers of prostate cancer biopsies.
“Treatment Type a Non-Factor in Prostate Cancer Patients’ Anxiety.” MedPage Today, 4/29/21. (medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/ons/92341)