Cancer

Faced with many options, men with prostate cancer get help choosing the right treatments

Christopher Saigal and Bill Pickett

After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Bill Pickett used a computer program developed by Dr. Christopher Saigal, left, to help choose a treatment option.

Like many men diagnosed with prostate cancer, Bill Pickett faced a tough question when he came to UCLA for treatment: how to fight it?

Prostate cancer is one of the more curable cancers — it has a 96 percent survival rate 15 years after diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society. The options men have after a diagnosis have different side effects and trade-offs. So choosing, for example, between radiation therapy or surgery, can be complicated for a person.

“When you’re diagnosed with prostate cancer, you realize that each treatment can have very different side effects,” said Pickett, who lives in Los Angeles and came to UCLA for treatment in summer 2016. “You really have to think about what’s most important and about which treatment is best for you.”

Recent research in the Journal of Clinical Oncology shows that as many as 15 percent of prostate cancer patients later regret their treatment choice.

Such difficulties led Dr. Christopher Saigal, vice chair of urology at UCLA, to develop a tool to simplify the choices for men and reduce what he calls “decisional conflict,” when patients experience stress about which treatment — and consequent risks — to choose.

The tool, an online computer program called WiserCare, asks men with prostate cancer to answer questions about personal values and goals and based on those answers provides a ranking of suggested treatments.

The program works by using algorithms that incorporate medical evidence and modeling to quantify the relative strengths of what a patient says he values. For example, has he answered that having the longest life possible is less important than avoiding a side effect like decreased sexual function?…