Living with cancer blog

Watch and wait cancers — monitoring has benefits

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. December 15, 2012

Watchful waiting, active monitoring and surveillance are words to describe a monitoring strategy used for types of lymphomas and cancers.

If a cancer is discovered that's slow growing, as can be the case with some lymphomas as well as prostate cancer, many times active treatment is not the first recommendation.

When the doctor says you have cancer and the best thing to do is to watch and wait — instead of describing an active treatment plan, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, it can bring on feelings of anxiety.

We're so used to the idea that cancer needs to be treated — as soon as it's discovered — that it seems strange to just watch for something to happen. However, in some cases, ongoing monitoring is the best strategy.

Even though it may seem contrary to what we might think, active monitoring can have good benefits. If a cancer is slow growing, it may be best to wait until the cancer is at a stage where treatment would be more effective. Or, it may be that the cancer is monitored and never needs active treatment — such as in slow growing prostate cancer.

You may want to also consider these active steps if you are in a watch and wait situation:

  • Be physically active — get in aerobic exercise at least 3 days each week
  • Eat healthy foods — leafy greens, fish, lean meats, fruits and vegetables
  • Reduce stress levels — incorporate yoga or meditation
  • Be aware of any changes in your body — report any new symptoms to your doctor
  • Get your blood tests and scans on schedule — outline your monitoring plan together with your doctor
  • Understand next steps if active treatment is necessary — being well informed will help with your sense of control over the situation

Watchful waiting should be considered an active strategy, as close monitoring can give you reassurance that your cancer is stable, and not aggressively growing. If a cancer is found to be progressing during the monitoring stage — then additional treatment strategies can be started.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Dec. 15, 2012