Your doctor might use active surveillance or watchful waiting to monitor you if you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer. This means that you don’t have treatment straight away. Instead, your doctor keeps a close eye on you.
What is active surveillance or watchful waiting?
Some prostate cancers are slow growing and might never cause you problems.
Your doctor might suggest waiting and seeing whether the cancer develops, rather than giving treatment straight away. All cancer treatments have side effects. So monitoring your cancer can help make sure you don't have treatment that you don't need.
You have regular tests to check whether the prostate cancer is staying the same size or starting to grow. You can start treatment if there is any sign that your cancer is beginning to change or grow.
Ways to monitor prostate cancer
There are 2 ways of monitoring prostate cancer:
- active surveillance
- watchful waiting
You have regular hospital appointments and tests. At each appointment, your doctor asks if you have developed any new symptoms.
Who has active surveillance?
You might have active surveillance if:
- your cancer is contained in the prostate gland. This is localised prostate cancer
- you have a Cambridge Prognostic Group of 1, 2 or 3. This is similar to a low or medium risk localised prostate cancer
- you can have treatment that aims to cure if the cancer starts to grow
Your doctor will discuss the possible benefits and risks of active surveillance. They make sure that you're happy with whichever decision is made.
What happens during active surveillance?
What happens during active surveillance depends on your local hospital. Your team can tell you more about what will happen. This is typically what might happen during year one of active surveillance. You might have a:
- blood test to monitor your PSA level every 3 to 4 months
- prostate examination at 12 months. You may not need this if you are having an MRI scan
- type of MRI scan called multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) at 12 months
This is what might happen in year 2 and every year until active surveillance ends. You have a:
- blood test to monitor your PSA level every 3 to 6 months
- prostate examination. You may not need this if you are having an MRI scan
- MRI scan called multiparametric MRI (mpMRI)
You have treatment if you develop any new symptoms, or if tests show your cancer is starting to grow. The treatment aims to cure your cancer. Treatment is usually surgery to remove the prostate gland or radiotherapy.
You also have tests and check ups. You usually have them at your GP surgery rather than at the hospital. You can discuss with your doctor how often you need tests.
Who has watchful waiting?
You might have watchful waiting if you have localised prostate cancer and you:
- have health problems so you can’t have treatment to try to cure your cancer
- don’t want to have treatment to try to cure your cancer
What happens during watchful waiting?
You have blood tests to measure your PSA levels. You usually have this at least once a year. Your GP can arrange for you to see a prostate cancer specialist if you have:
- a sudden rise in your PSA level
- develop any new symptoms, such as bone pain
Your prostate cancer specialist might recommend hormone treatment. The treatment aims to shrink and control your cancer rather than cure it.
Treatments for prostate cancer
We have information about the different treatments for prostate cancer.