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Editorial: Active surveillance for prostate cancer: is it too active?

The wide dissemination of prostate cancer screening has increased the number of men diagnosed with low-risk, indolent cancers that are better managed with active surveillance (AS) rather than immediate treatment. During the past decade, the number of men managed with AS has increased from <10% to 40% in community based practice registries [1]. Prostate needle biopsy has a central role in diagnosis and reclassification of cancer for men on AS, and the number of these procedures has increased on an individual patient level and overall in the population. The rise of prostate biopsies repeated in the same patients has mirrored the increased rate of biopsy related infectious complications. An association between the number of repeat prostate biopsies and risk of infectious complications was reported in a single-centre observational study [2].

In this issue of BJUI, Bokhort et al. [3] report the risk of complications of serial prostate biopsies in men on AS in the multi-institutional Prostate cancer Research International Active Surveillance (PRIAS) study. Although they did not identify the number of previous biopsies as an independent predictor of infection, the type of prophylactic antibiotic was associated with risk of infection. Overall, one in five men reported any complication during AS and the rate of infectious complications was 2.5%. These figures are more relevant if we consider that men in whom an infection occurred were twice as likely to discontinue AS. Although the rate of attrition may have confounded the association of repeat biopsies on infectious complications or guided a more augmented antibiotic prophylaxis regimen, the most important finding of this study remains the significant morbidity associated with AS.

In the PRIAS study, institutions are guided to perform surveillance biopsies at 1, 4, and 7 years after the diagnostic biopsy. However, the schedule of biopsies varies significantly globally across institutions. In some academic centres, prostate biopsies are taken annually for men on AS, while other experts in AS have discussed taking biopsies every 5 years [4, 5]. As more studies emerge demonstrating the oncological safety of AS, we must address how ‘active’ AS should be and develop individualised recommendations based on tumour characteristics. A barrier to AS remains the burden of morbidity associated with prostate biopsies and efforts to reduce these procedures will contribute to further reducing the overtreatment of men with low-risk prostate cancer. In addition, the patient costs associated with serial office visits and the burden on physicians and healthcare systems stemming from the increased clinical volume following these patients remain an unmet need for the future.


Behfar Ehdaie
Department of Surgery, Urology Service, and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Center of Health Policy and Outcomes, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA



1. Cooperberg MR, Carroll PR. Trends in management for patients with localized prostate cancer, 1990–2013. JAMA 2015; 314: 802


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