Watchful waiting for prostate cancer

Many men diagnosed with prostate cancer don't need to be treated right away. This is because most prostate cancers grow slowly and are unlikely to spread outside of the prostate. Older men with prostate cancer that has a very low risk of growing quickly or spreading may be offered watchful waiting. During watchful waiting, no routine tests are done. If symptoms develop, treatment may be used to relieve symptoms. The goal of any future treatment is not to cure the cancer but to control the symptoms (called palliative treatment).

Using watchful waiting helps avoid unnecessary routine testing and side effects that can happen with treatments such as surgery or radiation therapy. Watchful waiting may be used for older men with other serious or life-threatening illnesses who are expected to live less than 5 years.

Who is treated with watchful waiting

You may be offered watchful waiting if:

  • the cancer isn't causing any symptoms
  • the cancer is only in the prostate but you have health problems and can't have treatment
  • you are older and have serious health problems, so your life expectancy is less than 5 years

Expert review and references