Objective: To understand what leads men to choose 'watchful waiting' rather than active treatment for cancer of the prostate.
Patients and methods: Fifty men with confirmed prostate cancer in England, Wales and Scotland were interviewed about all aspects of their illness, for a Database of Individual Patients' Experience of illness. The sample included men at different stages of diagnosis and with experience of a wide range of treatments. We report here only what men said about their choice of treatment and the decision-making process.
Results: Watchful waiting would have been clinically inappropriate for almost half of the men (those with serious urinary symptoms and those with metastatic disease). However, few of the men who might have chosen watchful-waiting remembered this being presented as a serious option. Most in this group chose radical prostatectomy, radiotherapy, brachytherapy or cryosurgery. The few who chose watchful waiting had found doctors who supported their decision, had assessed the evidence from Internet sites, and were concerned about the side-effects and uncertain outcome of treatment. Men who chose watchful waiting, as well as those who opted for treatment, described considerable pressure from family members, doctors or support groups, to seek active treatment.
Conclusion: This study helps to explain why some men will not contemplate watchful waiting, and why others may find it difficult to pursue that option. Understanding men's concerns may help clinicians to support men's treatment decisions. Treatment for prostate cancer is highly controversial because no randomized, controlled trials have shown whether or not active intervention increases survival. If trials are not completed it cannot be determined whether active treatments are the best course of action for men with prostate cancer.