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Monitoring prostate cancer

Find out about what monitoring is and why doctors monitor prostate cancer.

What monitoring is

Monitoring means you don’t have treatment straight away when you are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Your doctors keep a close eye on you.

You have regular tests to check whether the prostate cancer is staying the same or starting to grow. You can start treatment if there is any sign that your cancer is beginning to change or grow.

Why monitor prostate cancer

Doctors monitor prostate cancer to avoid giving you unnecessary treatment.

Prostate cancer generally affects older men. And most prostate cancers grow and develop very slowly. You might never have any cancer symptoms in your lifetime. So you may never need treatment.

Your doctor might want to wait and see whether the cancer develops, rather than giving treatment straight away. All cancer treatments have side effects. It is obviously best to avoid these side effects if at all possible.

Ways to monitor prostate cancer

There are 2 ways of monitoring prostate cancer:

  • active surveillance
  • watchful waiting

The aim is to avoid unnecessary treatment. But there are differences.

You have active surveillance if the doctor aims to cure your cancer if it starts to grow.

You have watchful waiting if the doctor aims to control your cancer if it starts to grow.

Last reviewed: 
06 Jul 2016
  • Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), January 2014

  • EAU guidelines on prostate cancer. part 1: screening, diagnosis, and local treatment with curative intent - update 2013
    A Heidenreich and others
    European Association of Urology
    European Urology. 2014 Jan;65(1):124-37

  • Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) Guidance for Managing Prostate Cancer
    British Uro-oncology Group (BUG) and the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) Section of Oncology, September 2013

  • Long-term quality-of-life outcomes after radical prostatectomy or watchful waiting: the Scandinavian Prostate Cancer Group-4 randomised trial
    E Johansson and others
    Lancet Oncology 2011 (September).Vol 12 (9) 891 – 899

  • Treatment choices for men with early stage prostate cancer
    National Cancer Institute booklet

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