Study Finds Impact of Prostate Cancer Treatments Levels Off Over Time

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A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday has concluded that while there are short-term differences in the effects that treating prostate cancer with either surgery or radiation therapy have on the body, the long-term effects end up being roughly equal. Researchers looked at the effects of the two therapies at the two-year mark, the five-year mark, and the 15-year mark in regards to urinary, sexual, and bowel function.

The researchers used data from the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study. The study followed some 3,533 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in either 1994 or 1995, and had been between the ages of 55 and 74 when they received their initial diagnosis.

Here is some of the key information that has emerged from this study.

* According to the NEJM summary, surgery -- or prostatectomy -- carried the greater immediate risk of impacting both urinary and sexual function. Radiation therapy carried the greater immediate risk of impacting bowel function. With both therapies, the impact was most acute at the two-year mark.

* The differences between the impacts of the two therapies were most recognizable at the two-year mark and the five-year mark. By the 15-year mark, the impact on functionality between the two therapies was nearly even.

* Dr. David Penson, a professor of urologic surgery at Vanderbilt University and a senior author of the study, told NBC News on Wednesday that his research "tells you that if you get treatment there are a lot of side effects regardless of the therapy you choose."

* The statistics behind his research were staggering, with a full 60.8 percent of the men who chose radiation therapy experiencing erectile dysfunction at the 2-year mark, versus 78.8 percent among those who chose a surgical option. As noted by NBC News, those statistics went up over time. By the time that 15 years had passed, 87 percent of the men who had chosen radiation treatment had experienced erectile dysfunction, while 93.9 percent of the men who had chosen to treat their prostate cancer with surgery had experienced erectile dysfunction.

* Penson went on to say that much of the impact caused by treating prostate cancer is probably unnecessary, telling NBC News that "many of these men have low-risk disease that probably doesn't need to be treated."

* Penson's study found that many of the men who participated, despite having prostate cancer that fell into the guidelines for requiring monitoring but not necessarily treatment, had received treatment anyways, impacting their overall functionality.

* Penson and his fellow authors noted that given the potentially high impact of treating low-risk prostate cancer on the quality of men's lives, and the generally high survival rate and life expectancy of those diagnosed with the disease, "a careful evaluation of long-term functional outcomes is critical to an understanding of the experience" of men who have been diagnosed with the disease, as quoted by MedPage Today.

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.

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