A new study offers important information to men who are facing difficult decisions about how to treat prostate cancer in its early stages, or whether to treat it at all.
Researchers followed patients for 10 years and found no difference in death rates between men who were picked at random to have surgery or radiation, or to rely on "active monitoring" of the cancer, with treatment only if it progressed.
Death rates from the cancer were low over all: only about 1 percent of patients 10 years after diagnosis.
But the disease was more likely to progress and spread in the men who opted for monitoring rather than for early treatment. And about half the patients in the study who had started out being monitored wound up having surgery or radiation.
The patients are still being followed, which should reveal whether the death rate will eventually increase for the men assigned to monitoring.
Doctors say the findings should help reassure men that surgery and radiation are equally reasonable choices in the early stages of the disease.
"I can counsel patients better now," Dr. Freddie C. Hamdy, a leader of the study from the University of Oxford, in England, said in an interview. "I can tell them very precisely, 'Look, your risk of dying from cancer is very, very small. If you receive treatment you will get some benefit. It will reduce the disease from growing outside your prostate, but these are exactly the side effects you might expect.'"