How Prostate Cancer Treatment Affects Longevity

From surgical removal of the prostate to watchful waiting, there are a variety of options when it comes to prostate cancer treatments. These treatments cover a wide range of approaches and impact life expectancy differently. Here is what you should know about the available treatment options for clinically localized prostate cancer— and what research says about their ability to prolong life expectancy.

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What Is Clinically Localized Prostate Cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and your healthcare provider has indicated that your cancer appears to not have spread beyond the prostate gland, you have what is known as clinically localized prostate cancer. Sometimes, healthcare providers will also call cancer that has spread into the lining of the prostate gland clinically localized.

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, about 90 percent of men with prostate cancer have localized prostate cancer, and it is typically considered low-risk, meaning patients can expect to live long after their diagnosis, in many cases even without treatment.

Treatment Options for Localized Prostate Cancer

If you are diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, you may be presented with a number of different treatment options. The most common include:

  • Active Surveillance: Your healthcare provider may want to monitor your disease to see if treatment is necessary. With active surveillance, you will have regular check-ups with your healthcare providers. They may perform a physical exam, imaging, and/or biopsies regularly. If your test results change, your healthcare provider will discuss your options for starting treatment.
  • Watchful Waiting: While some healthcare providers use the terms active surveillance and watchful waiting interchangeably, watchful waiting usually means that fewer tests are done. You will still visit your healthcare provider regularly, but your healthcare provider will discuss changes in your health as they relate to managing your symptoms, not curing your disease.
  • Prostatectomy: Removal of the prostate, called prostatectomy, is an option that has a strong likelihood of removing your cancer since you are removing the gland where it is located. However, this is an invasive procedure that can lead to other issues, which will be covered later.
  • Radiation: Your healthcare provider may suggest radiation as a means of therapy that targets tumors with radiation, usually through daily treatments in a hospital or clinic over multiple weeks.

Life Expectancy and Localized Prostate Cancer

So how do these treatments affect life expectancy? In one study, researchers in Switzerland examined the treatment and outcomes of 844 men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer.

They compared men who had been treated with prostatectomy, radiotherapy and watchful waiting and found that at five years from diagnosis, the type of treatment made little difference to survival. When the researchers went to 10 years from diagnosis, they did find a difference in survival based on treatment, but it was fairly small.

After 10 years, 83 percent of the men who had gotten a prostatectomy were still living, compared to 75 percent who had undergone radiotherapy and 72 percent who took a watchful waiting approach.

Know Your Priorities When Deciding on Prostate Cancer Treatment

While this one study showed that people who get a prostatectomy may live longer, it's important to understand the risks involved with each and to know your priorities. You may be quick to want to remove your prostate or get radiation treatment to get rid of the cancer right away, however, there are many quality of life issues to take into account:

  • With active surveillance, your cancer may grow and spread.
  • Choosing not to treat your cancer right away could lead to anxiety.
  • Men who undergo radiation are more likely to have bowel problems.
  • There is a chance you may lose bladder control (stress urinary incontinence) after surgery.
  • You may lose your ability to have an erection after surgery.

The decision about how you will treat your prostate cancer is not one to be taken likely. Discussing the risks and complications with your healthcare provider and your family, and thoroughly considering your priorities, can help you make a decision that feels right for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Treating localized prostate cancer.

  2. Brawley S, Mohan R, Nein CD. Localized prostate cancer: treatment optionsAm Fam Physician; 97(12):798–805.

  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. What every man should know about radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

  4. Merglen A, Schmidlin F, Fioretta G, et al. Short- and long-term mortality with localized prostate cancerArch Intern Med. 2007;167(18):1944–1950. doi:10.1001/archinte.167.18.1944

  5. Matulewicz RS, Weiner AB, Schaeffer EM. Active surveillance for prostate cancer. JAMA. 2017;318(21):2152. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17222

  6. Prostate Cancer Foundation. Bowel dysfunction.

  7. John Hopkins Medicine. Erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.