What is Watchful Waiting for Blood Cancers?

Clinical Chief, Lymphoma & Myeloma
Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 2:24pm

Watchful waiting is a treatment approach that may be recommended in certain situations for certain types of cancer, including some blood cancers. While this method may seem frightening, understanding the reasoning and science behind it can help to ease your fears.  

Hematological malignancies or blood-related cancers are a vast spectrum of disorders. Some malignancies are very aggressive and they require immediate medical attention. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few blood-related cancers that have a very indolent or slow-to-progress clinical course. In those situations, the cancer cells can actually cohabitate in a friendly way with a patient’s body, and sometimes, the risks posed by immediate treatment do not outweigh the benefits.

Conditions in which watchful waiting may be advised are usually chronic lymphocytic leukemia, follicular lymphoma and some other rare forms of weaker low-grade lymphomas.

Watchful waiting is about balancing the risks and benefits of the treatment. As long as the cancer cells are not affecting the quality of life and the function of the immune system, early intervention may only lead to unnecessary toxicities entering the body. One of the reasons humans are at the top of the pyramid in the animal kingdom is because our bodies have an incredible ability to adapt to a hostile environment. Sometimes, the body can actually adapt to cancer cells and it’s better not to interfere with therapeutic treatments.

It’s important for patients to understand the exact disorder they have and how the cancer cells live inside them. Once you understand the biology of your disease, you can be more at ease about why watchful waiting could be the best approach.

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