Perspective

On Cancer: When "Do No Harm" Means "Do Nothing": Evolving Protocols

Vincent Laudone Urologic surgeon Vincent Laudone

Our conversation about active surveillance of prostate cancer continues. In previous posts James Eastham and I wrote about the benefits this management strategy offers some patients and how we manage risks. Recently a reader asked what the protocol is for selecting and following patients on active surveillance.

In fact, our protocol is constantly evolving. One reason for this is that we continually gain new information by analyzing patients who have been on active surveillance to date. We now have experience managing more than 1,000 patients with prostate cancer on active surveillance for up to ten years.

Choosing the Right Approach for Each Patient

From this experience, we have learned that the most important factor in achieving a successful outcome for patients on active surveillance is to be certain from the very beginning that their cancer is appropriate for this approach. For this reason we now routinely do a prostate MRI at the time of initial diagnosis, and, if indicated, a second or “confirmatory” biopsy.

In addition, the recent availability of genomic testing now gives us an enhanced ability to better assess the aggressiveness of an individual cancer based on DNA analysis of the biopsy samples. Taken together, all of this information is used to determine which patients are good candidates for active surveillance and which patients should receive immediate treatment.

Following Patients

When it comes to following patients on active surveillance, advances in MRI technology —including stronger magnets and better software — continue to reduce the need for repeat prostate biopsies over time. The information gained over the past several years along with the technological improvements now allow us to individualize the follow-up regimen for each patient, tailoring the schedule to fit the aggressiveness of the cancer and the patient’s characteristics, such as age and health status. Most men on active surveillance are seen every six months for a routine exam and PSA check, with follow-up MRI and biopsies as circumstances warrant.

Finally, our experience gained thus far has given us reason to consider active surveillance not only for very low-volume, low-grade disease but also for a broader group of patients, including men with higher-volume Gleason grade 6 disease, or even low-volume Gleason grade 7 disease. 

Vincent P. Laudone is a urologic surgeon specializing in robotic surgery.

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