PUMPING IRONY: Relax, It’s Only Cancer

I’ve always been leery of interventionist medicine, so I was happy to see a new study suggesting that ignoring a prostate cancer diagnosis is just as effective as treating it.

At my age, it’s tempting to consider your mortality at every turn. You take fewer chances — physically at least — and pay extra attention to the signals your body is sending you. Some mornings that means I need to leave the kettlebell over there in the corner of the room and just sit still and breathe. Other days, an extra hour of sleep is just the thing. You get to know your limitations.

But for too many guys my age — and younger — it means that you need to be on high alert for any indication of cancer, and leap to action at the least sign of distress. It’s understandable, I suppose; cancer is a scary concept. I think I’ve mentioned how my oldest brother, now 68, has undergone multiple biopsies for prostate cancer, despite the fact that several recent studies argue that such screenings are unreliable and that the treatment options can result in serious side effects.

I don’t subscribe to that approach, so I was happy to learn about a new study from the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, that reported the efficacy of a “watchful waiting” strategy for prostate cancer patients. As Tara Parker-Pope reported in the New York Times, about 10 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are now choosing to wait and see how things go rather than proceed with treatment that more often than not will leave them impotent and incontinent or both. That approach, researchers found, did not statistical alter one’s risk of death from the illness. Indeed, the study showed that about 7 percent of those diagnosed with the disease died during the study period, but there was no measurable difference in mortality between those who chose aggressive treatment and those who ignored the disease altogether.

“Men have a strong belief that if they are diagnosed with cancer, they will die from the cancer if it’s left untreated, and they believe that treatment will cure them,” lead researcher Dr. Timoth y J. Wilt told the Times. “This study adds to growing evidence that observation can be a wise and preferred treatment option for the vast majority of men. It allows them to live a similar length of life and avoid death from prostate cancer and avoid the harms of treatment.”

About a quarter-million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and about half of them will unquestioningly follow their doctor’s orders to have their prostate removed and undergo radiation treatment. This new study, I hope, will give them the ammunition they need to resist such aggressive — and ineffective — remedies.

They didn’t need to convince me. As you may know, I’ve always been leery of interventionist medicine. It’s just nice to know that maybe I’m out ahead of the trend when it comes to steering clear of doctors. Just like us geezers, they have their limitations.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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