Thousands of men are undergoing debilitating surgery for prostate cancer which may be needless, claim scientists.
They say that in many cases the tumours are growing so slowly they do not need to be treated.
A major study has shown that survival rates of men who had surgery were hardly any higher than patients whose doctors essentially did nothing.
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At present men diagnosed with the illness are offered surgery to remove the prostate gland, known as a ‘radical prostatectomy’.
The operation often has distressing side effects and more than half of men are left impotent and one in ten incontinent.
Now early results from the Prostate Intervention Versus Observation Trial (PIVOT) suggest that in many cases surgery is pointless.
The study began in 1994 involving 731 men with prostate cancer whose average age was 68.
They were monitored over the next 12 years and some had surgery while others underwent ‘watchful waiting’ which means their doctors did not treat them.
The results – presented at a meeting of the European Association of Urology – show that on average the men undergoing surgery were just 3 per cent more likely to have survived than the ‘watchful waiting’ group.
However surgery was found to increase the survival chances of men with the most serious forms of prostate cancer, the European Association of Urology was told.
Study author Dr Timothy Wilt, of the University of Minnesota, concluded that surgery did not ‘significantly reduce prostate cancer mortality’.
Around 37,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Britain every year and another 10,000 die.
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