Some doctors debate name change for low-grade prostate cancer

Some doctors are arguing low-grade prostate cancer patients may do better if the word "cancer" was not part of their diagnosis. 

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and hearing the words "you have cancer" can be terrifying. 

"You hear the word ‘cancer’ and the patient is very stressed. There's a level of anxiety," said Moffitt Cancer Center Chair of GU Oncology Department Dr. Julio Pow-Sang.

Cancer cells develop in nearly all prostates as men age. It can be a serious disease, but most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. Pow-Sang said that from a medical end they know many of these cancers don't need to be treated. 

More than 30% of men have such low-grade prostate cancers that active surveillance is a better choice than immediate treatment. The goal is to keep an eye on the cancer in case it becomes more risky or aggressive.

"We're going to actively monitor your disease. We're going to actively check your PSA. We're going to actively look at potentially an MRI, potentially a repeat biopsy if the other indicators are so appropriate," explained Dr. Ravi Bukkapatnam, president of Florida Urology Partners.

Here in the U.S., about 40% of those low-risk patients are being treated, opting for unneeded surgery or radiation.

An article published Monday in the journal of clinical oncology argued that is the reason prostate cancer with the lowest score, a Gleason six, should be re-named.

"From my personal view, it's a good idea to give it a more appropriate term. But it has to be qualified that it still needs a very thorough workup," Pow-Sang said.

Not all experts agree. Those against calling it something besides cancer worry the move could unintentionally downplay the diagnosis.

"And once it gets in their head that they don't need to worry about it anymore, they may not come in for follow up, they may disappear. And at some point, that certainly could be detrimental to their health," said Bukkapatnam

Any man told he may have prostate cancer should thoroughly educate himself, and consider getting multiple medical opinions. Name changes like this are not unheard of. Low-risk cancers of the bladder, cervix and thyroid have all gone through similar evolutions.