Prostate Cancer in the News

The mantra of “early detection” took another hit yesterday when the NEJM reported that patients who had radical surgery on their prostate did minimally better than patients who simply observed their prostate cancer.

The study involved 731 men with localized prostate cancer (cancer that was localized to their prostate, and small) to where half of those patients were given surgery, a radical prostatectomy, and the others were simply observed.  At ten years out 47% of the men who had the radical surgery died, 6% from prostate cancer or treatment, compared to 8.4% of the men who were observed.  Bottom line: with 12 years of follow up the absolute differences in death between the two groups was less than 3 percent.

Prostate cancer surgery is not benign.  Sexual dysfunction, urinary incontinence being the most common long-term problems. While the latest for surgical innocation is using robotic surgery, and laparoscopic surgery to remove the cancers with decreased morbidity – it is probably this article, that the robot may not be needed at all, and simply watching the cancer is a better route.  Robotic surgery still comes with a high incidence of sexual dysfunction and incontinence.

Last year 75,000 men had robotic cancer radical prostate cancer surgery. While the study showing that patients who have robotic surgery had a shorter hospital stay and fewer wound infections, they had more sexual dysfunction and impotence as well as more urinary incontinence. But the market has driven more men to seek robotic radical prostate surgery, but perhaps the least invasive treatment – the use of periodic examinations, may be the best treatment of all.

Just because it’s new, does not mean it’s  better.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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  1. Lynn says:

    Early detection is making a comeback. I heard on the radio today that a breathalyzer test is being developed for common types of cancer such as colon, lung, prostate, and breast. This would most likely be considered early detection because late signs of colon cancer would be bleeding and lung cancer produces a cough, and prostate and breast would also have physical findings. I would suppose that if a breathalyzer test detects something abnormal, other tests would be done and then various more invasive treatments considered. The possibility that cancer does not always produce serious illness is just beginning to make headlines but there are plenty out there who want to keep cancer screening as part of routine health care.

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