For many men with early-stage prostate cancer, sorting out the treatment options can be overwhelming. Yet they feel pressured to choose a course of therapy quickly. The first issue of a new quarterly bulletin about prostate disease published by Harvard Medical School says that the most important thing to do is to take your time and make sure you explore all treatment choices thoroughly.

The inaugural issue of Perspectives on Prostate Disease explains that treatment decisions can be complicated for a number of reasons. First, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for early-stage prostate cancer. Even the experts do not agree about which men with such cancers should be treated, which therapy is best or whether, for some tumors, treatment is even necessary. Indeed, doctors are now advising many patients to undertake a program of "active surveillance" rather than pursue aggressive treatment. The choice can become even more difficult when a man takes into account the side effects of treatment, which can be devastating to his quality of life.

Marc B. Garnick, M.D., Harvard oncologist and editor-in-chief of Perspectives, says, "For all these reasons, I encourage patients to ask detailed questions and perform due diligence to ensure that they are making the right decisions about their medical care. Due diligence begins with having the confidence to question your physician about treatment recommendations after all, you are the person who has to live with the results."

Garnick recommends men also consider these questions:

Will you be able to deal with impotence if it occurs? What about incontinence?

How will the possible side effects of treatment affect your relationship with your partner and your sense of self?

It's vital to think about these issues carefully: Studies show that 30% to 70% of men treated with surgery or radiation therapy experience impotence, and at least 1% to 2% experience urinary incontinence and some experts think the true numbers are much higher. According to Garnick, truly informed patients are much better able to deal with adverse consequences than patients who don't have the all the facts, or who rush into making a decision.

Harvard Health Publications
Harvard Medical School 10 Shattuck St., Ste. 612
Cambridge, MA 02115
United States
health.harvard.edu

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