The "Watch and Wait" or watchful waiting treatment is used on indolent (slow growing) cancers. It means that a doctor does not actively treat a patient but monitors the growth of the disease.
Why is this done? In some cases, cancer is caught in its very early stages, when it is less responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The watch and wait method is used to ensure that when treatment is started, it is effective.
If a patient is living comfortably and doesn’t experience any uncomfortable side effects from their cancer, then the watch and wait method is often the doctor’s first choice. During this time, the patient will undergo frequent medical tests to determine the stage of the disease.
Once the cancer evolves into a treatable stage, then other treatment options are pursued. This may involve chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery, or a combination of these.
The benefits of the watch and wait method are proven. Studies have examined cases where this method is used and have found that it doesn’t decrease a patient’s chance of survival when used properly. In fact, it is often helpful. Since most cancer treatments are harmful to the body, waiting to administer them until they are the most effective reduces damage to the patient.
The watch and wait method is never used on aggressive cancers. It is rarely used on cancers in advanced stages, unless the tumors are extremely slow growing.
Photo by Bill Branson, NCI