Research advances over the last 40 years have helped to make prostate cancer one of the most treatable of all cancers. Today, nearly all men who are in otherwise good health live at least five years after a prostate cancer diagnosis, up from 65 percent in the 1970s.
With the availability of PSA tests and other tools to assess the disease, physicians can in many cases determine which men with early-stage cancers require treatment, and which men have tumors that are slowly growing and can safely be monitored for signs of spread – an approach known as watchful waiting or active surveillance. As a result, thousands of men have been spared from unnecessary treatment and from side effects such as incontinence and loss of sexual function.
For men who do require therapy, treatment advances have improved survival and quality of life. Refined surgical and radiation techniques offer faster recoveries and fewer complications, enabling more men to maintain their sexual function and return to their normal lives. An unprecedented number of hormone and chemotherapy options are now available to slow disease progression and relieve the symptoms of advanced disease, while the addition of radiation to traditional therapy is driving down recurrence rates among men diagnosed with earlier-stage disease.
But important research challenges remain. Recent trials have questioned the value of routine PSA testing to screen for prostate cancer, and researchers continue to search for a screening test that can accurately detect high-risk cases of the disease. New treatments are urgently needed for men with advanced stages of the disease, for whom survival remains low. And racial disparities in prostate cancer mortality point to the need for better knowledge of the biology of prostate cancer, and improved access to care for many with the disease.