Preventing Unnecessary Cancer Treatment | Men's Health Blog

Date: 07/09/2013    Written by: Beth Levine

Unnecessary Prostate Cancer Treatments

No one wants to hear the words, "You've got cancer."  But nowadays, for many forms of the disease, you can live a long and healthy life even after such a diagnosis.  That is especially the case for men who suffer from low-risk prostate cancer.  Even the United States government has put forth a recommendation that calls for surveillance for those men with prostate cancers that have a low mortality rate rather than undergoing treatment.  So why are so many doctors still performing these often unneeded procedures on their patients?

According to a new study conducted at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, there is a high percentage of men with prostate cancer who are undergoing extensive, often very expensive, treatment when they have little risk of dying from the condition.1  The subjects included nearly 56,000 men, all of whom were at least 66 years old and receiving Medicare.  By analyzing the patients' medical records from 2004 through 2009, the researchers determined that the use of high tech therapeutic methods increased significantly for patients considered at low risk by all measures.  The treatments consisted of robotic surgery, which employs an ultramodern device to perform the procedure at a surgeon's control, and intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), which involves using computerized machinery to deliver very high doses of radiation to a targeted area.2

During the time period of the research, these procedures rose in frequency from 36 percent to 57 percent, despite there being no good justification for using them in most of these cases.  At their ages, these subjects were all at a much higher risk of dying from other men's health issues or types of diseases than the prostate cancer they had been diagnosed with, which carries a five-year survival rate of better than 99 percent and typically spreads very slowly.3

Besides the fact that these forms of treatment are excessive and unwarranted, they can actually be dangerous to a man's health.  Whether the treatment consists of surgery to remove malignant tissue, radiation to kill off the cancer cells, or pharmaceutical hormones to suppress the androgen hormones that stimulate the growth of the cancer, they can result in complications.  Many patients undergoing any of these treatments are likely to develop sexual dysfunction, urinary and bowel problems, and/or infertility.4

So why are a growing number of men with prostate cancer receiving these unwarranted treatments rather than just going for regular check ups to monitor the disease and make sure it isn't progressing?  The answer is probably a combination of several factors.  There is often a financial incentive for doctors to offer these types of procedures, whether pressure comes from a health care facility that they practice out of or due to their own investment in some of this extremely expensive machinery.  In addition, when the physician is going to be earning a share of the approximately $40,000 per patient each time IMRT is performed, it's not impossible that it subconsciously influences the doctor's treatment recommendations. And, of course, since Medicare is paying for everything, what does it matter?  From the patient's side, there is the fear of disease that many people live with making a "wait and see" approach practically unfathomable to them.  Some who are diagnosed with prostate cancer would prefer to visit doctor after doctor until they hear what they are looking for, namely that there is a modern advancement that can rid them of cancer no matter the cost…financial or physical.

It's important to try to keep your wits about you, then, if you are faced with a diagnosis of low-risk prostate cancer.  As long as you are getting it checked out regularly, your chances of this killing you are pretty slim, and you can always opt for a more invasive approach later, at the first sign that the cancer is changing. There is never a need to rush into treatment with this particular cancer.  If you have a doctor who is advocating one of the above-mentioned aggressive treatments, find someone else with a more conservative approach.  And if you are a man over the age of 30 who does not have prostate problems, take some steps toward preventing cancer and protect your prostate health and hopefully safeguard it for the future.  That includes using a natural progesterone crème to keep estrogen levels in check and a male hormone balancing formula to prevent large amounts of dihydrotestosterone from getting bound to your prostate.  Watch what you eat as well.  A large 2008 study at Oxford University in England, found a link between heavy consumption of meat and dairy products and an increased risk of prostate cancer.5  If you don't want to give them up entirely, at least cut back and choose organic, grass fed products that contain no antibiotics or growth hormones.  In a couple of decades, when you are the only one of your friends who isn't complaining about his prostate, you'll be really glad you did.

  • 1. Alexander, Brian. "Pricey prostate cancer treatments used on men who may not need them." NBC News. 26 June 2013. Accessed 1 July 2013.
  • 2. "Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy." Radiology Info. 7 March 2013. Accessed 2 July 2013.
  • 3. "SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Prostate." National Cancer Institute. Accessed 2 July 2013.
  • 4. "Side Effects." Prostate Cancer Foundation. Accessed 2 July 2013.
  • 5. Roddam, Andrew W., et al. "Insulin-like Growth Factors, Their Binding Proteins, and Prostate Cancer Risk: Analysis of Individual Patient Data from 12 Prospective Studies." Annals of Internal Medicine. 7 October 2008. Accessed 2 July 2013.

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