By Shermian Woodhouse, M.D., M.P.H., Medical Director of Community Cancer Center
As a radiation oncologist for the Community Cancer Center, I often get questions from patients about how to make the right decision regarding treatment after a prostate cancer diagnosis. The advice I often give is that it’s important to consider all your options before you make your final decision.
Prostate cancer is one of our most common cancers among American men. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 164,690 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. It’s important to know, however, that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer will die of something other than their cancer. Fortunately, the average patient is diagnosed with early stage disease which gives them many options for managing their condition.
The treatment options depend on many factors, such as whether or not the tumor is localized to the prostate, how the tumor looks under the microscope (Gleason score), the PSA level at diagnosis, and the person’s overall health.
For cases diagnosed early — when there is no sign that the disease has spread outside the prostate — the relative survival rate is close to 100 percent. Surgery and radiation are options to discuss; however, some men may not even need treatment. For most men, the treatment approach does not affect survival but can affect their quality of life.
Each treatment is associated with its own set of side effects. For some men, side effects such as impotence and urinary incontinence might not be an issue, but for others, they might be. Participating in your own treatment decision contributes to greater understanding of your options and ultimate satisfaction with your treatment.
Consult with experts
If you are newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, you should plan to meet with a urologist, radiation oncologist, and your primary physician.
The Community Cancer Center is working with local urologists to help strengthen this connection. Urologists are knowledgeable on the surgical management of prostate cancer and related side effects. Your radiation oncologist can advise you on the different approaches and impacts of using radiation to treat prostate cancer. You should also consult with your primary physician. He or she knows you and your health history. This understanding can influence your thinking on which treatment modality is most appropriate for you.
If your cancer has spread
For more advanced cases, you may also choose to consult with a medical oncologist. These practitioners will have options for you beyond hormone treatment and also beyond what a urologist would offer.
Bottom line: if the outcome for prostate cancer treatment is the same in terms of survival, you have real choices. You should take time to research and prepare before you decide. It’s just reality that physicians are not experts in each other’s fields. That means you need to get the information from each specialist to make appropriate decisions. Yes, this creates many appointments, but think of them as second opinions rather than time wasters.
The best advice I can give you with regard to prostate cancer treatment is to become informed. You do have the power to make a difference in your quality of life and the satisfaction you experience after prostate cancer treatment.
The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of free supportive and educational programs to help patient and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information, go to www.cancercenter.org.