Sometimes, doctors choose not to treat prostate cancer right away. This is because prostate cancer often grows slowly. If your cancer does not cause any symptoms, is likely to grow slowly, is small, and has not spread outside the prostate, your doctor may recommend keeping a close eye on your cancer, but not treating it right away.
There are two terms used for this approach: active surveillance and watchful waiting. Some doctors use both terms to mean the same thing, but other doctors use them to mean slightly different things.
Active surveillance usually means using prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests, digital rectal exams (DREs), and ultrasounds regularly to check whether the cancer is growing.1 Doctors may also do prostate biopsies. If the test results show a change in the cancer, your doctor might discuss treatment options.
Watchful waiting can mean using fewer tests and basing treatment decisions more on symptoms.1
Whichever term your doctor uses, make sure you understand exactly what he or she means by it.
- American Cancer Society. Expectant management (watchful waiting) and active surveillance for prostate cancer. www.cancer.org/Cancer/ProstateCancer/DetailedGuide/prostate-cancer-treating-watchful-waiting. Accessed October 4, 2012.