Prostate cancer “spread through the air” … NOT!

How did we all miss this? This may be the single most important paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association this year!

According to a survey conducted by researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, and reported by Underwood et al. (and as discussed in an article on the MedPage Today web site:

One in six prostate cancer patients believed that cancer can be spread by air, and that belief may affect their treatment choices.


Men who believed that air can spread cancer were more than three times as likely not to choose radical prostatectomy as a treatment option, compared with men who said cancer definitely cannot be spread by air.

In response to a a questionin the survey about the idea that air can spread cancer:

  • 154/158 patients answered the question.
  • 25/154 men (16.5 percent) agreed that air can indeed spread cancer.
  • 50/154 (32.7 percent) stated that they didn’t know.
  • Just over half (51 percent) stated that air definitely can not spread cancer.

We apparently need to be very clear about this … There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that cancer can be spread through the air. Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that, at the time of surgery, when the surgeon “opens” an incision to remove the prostate and any related cancerous tissue, that cancer can “spread through the air” to other parts of the patient’s body.

In discussing these findings, Underwood stated that

If a patient is going to have surgery, he might ask, “What are you going to do if the cancer has spread?” … Physicians might think the patient is asking whether the cancer has spread to other sites in the body. In fact, the patient might be asking, “What are you going to do when you open me up and the air hits the cancer and spreads it?” We think that’s what some patients are asking.

5 Responses

  1. I think a more correct response would be, during surgery – does the surgery possibly disrupt some of the cancer cells, which may then migrate to other areas of the body.

    Research on this as I understand it, shows this does not this happens. I’m not sure I agree, but then I’m not a medical researcher nor a surgeon.

  2. Misconception or fact? Does cutting a tumor increase the chances of spreading the tumor (as in “After they cut him open the cancer spread everywhere”)?

    Does a needle biopsy have a risk of invigorating a tumor as the wound is repaired?

  3. And they suggest a frank and open conversation about the utility of PSA testing …

  4. Proving a negative is almost impossible. All that I can tell you is that I know of no cases in which surgery has been demonstrated to lead to metastatic disease post-surgery. Indeed, given the massive increase in surgical treatment for prostate cancer over the past 30 years, one would have expected a similar massive increase in the number of men with metastatic prostate cancer over the same time frame if this hypothesis was true. However, the risk for metastatic disease has actually fallen significantly over that time frame.

  5. Dear Michael:

    Please see my prior comment. There is no evidence to support the spread of tumor in the way that you describe, and that is not the perception that the patients studied by Underwood et al. are describing either.

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