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HEALTH REPORT - October 2, 2002: Prostate Cancer Update - 2002-10-01

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Scientists in Sweden have shown that removing a cancerous prostate gland reduces the chance of dying from prostate cancer. Yet their findings have failed to stop debate over how best to treat the disease.

The prostate is a small gland in men. A gland is a tissue or organ that produces a useful chemical substance. The prostate is important for sexual activity.

Cancer of the prostate usually develops in men over the age of fifty. Prostate cancer is most common in northwestern Europe and North America. In the United States alone, the disease will be discovered in one-hundred-eighty-nine-thousand men this year.

Prostate cancer can kill if it spreads to other parts of the body. Yet it can be cured if discovered early. Men in need of treatment have a number of choices. One is an operation to remove the cancerous prostate. Another is radiation. Both treatments affect the patient in other ways. They can make a man unable to perform sexually. Or they can make him unable to control the release of liquid waste from his body.

Many doctors say that men with early prostate cancer may not need any immediate treatment. Prostate cancer grows slowly. Treatment can be started later if the cancer grows. Medical experts had no evidence that an operation or other treatment was better than doing nothing.

The Swedish study attempted to answer that question. Its results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved almost seven-hundred men with prostate cancer. Half had operations to remove the cancerous gland between nineteen-eighty-nine and nineteen-ninety-nine. The other men received no treatment.

After about six years, thirty-one men in the no treatment group had died of prostate cancer. The disease killed sixteen of the men who had the operation. However, survival rates for men in both groups were about the same.

Supporters of the aggressive treatment praised the findings. Other doctors say the study does not help prostate cancer patients because it did not look at other treatments, such as radiation. They say men still do not really know what treatment choice is best. Medical experts say men with prostate cancer must understand their own situations and make the decision with their doctors.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.