The Truth About Prostate Surgery

The Truth About Prostate Surgery

Julian Whitaker, MD

I was in New York City, walking around Times Square when I glanced up at the electronic news ticker and read in huge letters, “Studies confirm the benefits of prostate cancer surgery.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had read through the results of these studies just that day, and they confirmed no such thing! They clearly stated that even in patients with large prostate tumors, surgery conferred no overall benefits in life expectancy. Even worse, it dramatically increased risk of impotency and urinary dysfunction.

I began to wonder who put the spin on this research to come up with such an obviously inaccurate assessment. I took a look at the day’s headlines from news sources around the country and found the interpretations varied dramatically. While the Los Angeles Times claimed, “Major Study Backs Removal of Prostate,” CNN reported, “Cancer Study Results Raise a Paradox.” Same day, same studies, different slant. Worse still, ABC News ran a blatantly false headline on their website: “Living Longer—Study Hails Prostate Surgery as Better Treatment Option.” Yet the researchers had concluded that surgery does not prolong life.

No wonder people are confused.

Prostate Surgery Won’t Save Your Life

The media frenzy over prostate surgery stemmed from a pair of Swedish studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine that followed 695 men with large prostate tumors for an average of 6.2 years. Half of the men were randomly assigned to undergo radical prostatectomy (removal of the prostate), while the other half were assigned to “watchful waiting” (close monitoring of the prostate for any changes that may require treatment). The first study calculated the two groups’ mortality rates, and the second measured their quality of life.

Over that six-year period there was a 50 percent reduction in death from prostate cancer among the men who had surgery. Sixteen of the 347 men who had surgery (4.6 percent) died of prostate cancer, compared to 31 of the 348 in the watchful waiting group (8.9 percent).

However, there was an increase in other causes of death in the surgery group, possibly associated with the surgery. So overall there was no difference in life expectancy. The researchers concluded that “…current evidence indicates that radical prostatectomy, as compared to watchful waiting, has little or no effect on overall survival…”

Calculating Quality of Life

When life expectancy rates are the same for both options, prostate cancer treatment decisions should be based on quality of life concerns. According to the second study, both groups reported comparable levels of distress or satisfaction with the side effects of their treatment. But here is where statistics fail us.

Eighty percent of the men who had surgery suffered from erectile dysfunction, compared with only 45 percent in the watchful waiting group. In addition, almost half of the surgical patients were incontinent, versus only 21 percent of the watchful waiters. Only one symptom was more common in the watchful waiting group: urinary obstruction (weak urinary stream), affecting 44 percent versus 28 percent in the surgery group.

Many surgery patients with erectile dysfunction and urinary leakage rated those symptoms as distressing. Conversely, many watchful waiting patients with urinary obstruction rated that symptom as distressing. So technically, when researchers compared the numbers, the two groups’ distress levels appeared about even.

Statistics aside, how many men would rather have a weak urinary stream than suffer from impotence and incontinence?

What Does It Mean?

I contend that these studies only confirm what I have been saying for decades: Prostate surgery is ineffective in prolonging life and should be used only when the cancer causes significant obstruction or some other serious debility. This is especially true since even conventional medicine offers effective, less invasive treatment options such as external-beam radiation and hormonal therapy.

But mark my words. Even though these studies looked only at large, easily identifiable tumors, inaccurate interpretation of this research will be used to scare men with small tumors into surgery.

While You’re Watching and Waiting…

If you have prostate cancer, you can boost your health and slow the progression of the disease through simple lifestyle choices and targeted supplements.

Avoid saturated fats in red meat and trans fats in processed foods, which stimulate the growth of prostate cancer. Eat lots of cold-water fish, which contain protective omega-3 fatty acids. Fill up on plant foods. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that slow cancer growth. Cooked tomatoes, which are high in lycopene, are particularly protective, as are leafy greens and beta-carotene-rich yellow and orange produce. Be sure you include soy in your diet, for it contains several therapeutic ingredients that fight free radicals, stimulate the immune system, and counter the negative effects of hormones.

…Try These Cancer-Fighting Supplements

Take high doses of antioxidant supplements, particularly vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium, as they boost the immune system and inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells.

To further boost immunity, try AHCC, an extract of Asian mushrooms that increases natural killer (NK) cell activity, and Avemar, a wheat germ extract that reduces cancer cell proliferation and improves immune function. And to inhibit the spread of cancer, I recommend modified citrus pectin (MCP).

Consider All Your Options

If your prostate cancer has metastasized, of course you should consider more aggressive treatment. But I encourage you to look not only at conventional modalities but also at high-dose IV vitamin C and other less toxic, well-tolerated therapies. When you make important decisions, you need to make them based on information, not fear and coercion.


  • If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, talk to your urologist about your options. Make sure you discuss quality of life as well as longevity issues. Be prepared for vigorous endorsement of surgery.
  • Get started on a low-fat diet with lots of plant foods and several weekly servings of cooked tomatoes, fish, and soy products.
  • Take a potent daily multivitamin with a minimum of 400-800 IU vitamin E, 1,000 mg vitamin C, and 200 mcg selenium. If you aren’t eating enough soy, add a soy isoflavone supplement. All these supplements are available in health food stores or by calling (800) 810-6655. Use as directed.


  • Steineck G et al. Quality of life after radical prostatectomy or watchful waiting. N Engl J Med. 2002;347(11):790-6.
  • Holmberg L et al. A randomized trial comparing radical prostatectomy with watchful waiting in early prostate cancer. N Engl J Med. 2002;347(11):781-9.

Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.

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