Watch and wait involves closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. Some people can manage their blood cancer — depending on the disease — with their doctors for years using a watch-and-wait approach. It is usually recommended for patients in early stages of indolent (slow-growing) or chronic forms of blood cancers.
Your doctor can monitor your condition for disease progression with regular physical exams and lab tests. You won't take any drugs or undergo any forms of treatment during this period.
If you have a nongrowing or slow-growing disease and no symptoms, watch and wait may be preferred; you can avoid drug treatment and its potential side effects until you need drugs. This approach is based on studies that indicate early treatment in some situations isn't beneficial.
What Your Doctor Looks For
You may feel uncomfortable because you know that you have cancer, yet you're not being treated right away. Rest assured that the watch-and-wait approach is the standard of care for people whose disease is not widespread and who have no symptoms.
You must visit your doctor regularly so he or she can check you for any health changes, specifically monitoring whether your disease remains stable or starts to progress. Your doctor monitors your test results to decide when it's time to start treatment and what the best treatment option is for you. Depending on the disease, your doctor may advise you to begin treatment if you have:
- Lymph nodes that are getting larger
- Newly affected lymph nodes
- Bone or other organs that have become affected by cancer
- A decrease in your blood cell count
- A relatively rapid increase in the number of lymphocytes in your blood
- A spleen that's increasing in size
- Worsening anemia
Watch and wait can also be the best approach for some patients diagnosed with widespread disease such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that treatment won't likely cure. The disease, though widespread, can remain stable for years, letting patients avoid the side effects of needless therapy.