Is Prostate Surgery a Waste of Time?

In April 2012 early results from an American study concluded that the effect of surgery on survival rates for prostate cancer was negligible, although the full results have yet to be published.

The Prostate Intervention Versus Observation Trust (PIVOT) led by Dr Timothy Wilt of the University of Minnesota followed 731 cancer patients over 12 years from 1993 to monitor the effectiveness of surgery. The results found that the survival rates for those who underwent the operation were less than 3% better than those who had no treatment. However, surgery WAS found to increase the survival chances of men with the most serious forms of prostate cancer.

The average age of the subjects at the beginning of the study was 68 years which meant that many died from other causes during the study since in 50% of all cases the tumour is so slow growing that it does not affect life expectancy and the men eventually die of something else.

A spokesman for Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Trust said he did not agree that the response to the results should always to “do nothing”. In older low risk men they already offer milder treatment such as radiotherapy or “watchful waiting” and added that we are better than the US in putting men on surveillance.

However, one specialist, who did not want to be named, said “The only rational response to these results is, when presented with a patient with prostate cancer, is to do nothing.”

The head of research at The Prostate Cancer Charity said she was aware of the findings and was awaiting the full published results which could help men in future to make more informed decisions about treatment.