Effect of delaying surgery on radical prostatectomy outcomes: a contemporary analysis


James M. McKiernan, Department of Urology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 161 Fort Washington Ave, Herbert Irving Pavilion – 11th Floor, New York, NY 10032, USA. e-mail: jmm23@columbia.edu


Study Type – Therapy (case series)

Level of Evidence 4

What's known on the subject? and What does the study add?

For patients electing surgical treatment, the question of the effect of surgical delay on clinical outcomes in prostate cancer is controversial. In this study we examined the effect of delay from diagnosis to surgery on outcomes in men with localized prostate cancer and found no association between time to surgery and risk of biochemical recurrence, even for patients with longer delays and high-risk disease. Men with localized prostate cancer can be reassured that reasonable delays in treatment will not influence disease outcomes.


  • • To examine the effect of time from last positive biopsy to surgery on clinical outcomes in men with localized prostate cancer undergoing radical prostatectomy (RP).


  • • We conducted a retrospective review of 2739 men who underwent RP between 1990 and 2009 at our institution.
  • • Clinical and pathological features were compared between men undergoing RP ≤ 60, 61–90 and >90 days from the time of prostate biopsy.
  • • A Cox proportional hazards model was used to analyse the association between clinical features and surgical delay with biochemical progression. Biochemical recurrence (BCR)-free rates were assessed using the Kaplan–Meier method.


  • • Of the 1568 men meeting the inclusion criteria, 1098 (70%), 303 (19.3%) and 167 (10.7%) had a delay of ≤60, 61–90 and >90 days, respectively, between biopsy and RP. A delay of >60 days was not associated with adverse pathological findings at surgery.
  • • The 5-year survival rate was similar among the three groups (78–85%, P= 0.11).
  • • In a multivariate Cox model, men with higher PSA levels, clinical stages, Gleason sums, and those of African-American race were all at higher risk for developing BCR.
  • • A delay to surgery of >60 days was not associated with worse biochemical outcomes in a univariate and multivariate model.


  • • A delay of >60 days is not associated with adverse pathological outcomes in men with localized prostate cancer, nor does it correlate with worse BCR-free survival.
  • • Patients can be assured that delaying treatment while considering therapeutic options will not adversely affect their outcomes.

radical prostatectomy


biochemical recurrence


time to surgery


odds ratio


interquartile range


hazard ratio


Patients diagnosed with prostate cancer must navigate an increasingly complicated web of decisions about treatment, including if and when radical prostatectomy (RP) is appropriate. While patient anxiety may often lead to a short interval between diagnosis and surgery, other logistic factors such as health insurance coverage, medical or personal problems, and surgeon or operating room availability may also cause delays in surgery of variable length [1]. As localized prostate cancer is generally accepted to have an indolent course, such delays tend to be tolerated by physicians and patients alike; however, the question of whether treatment delays negatively impact patient outcomes is controversial, and the oncology literature varies with respect to different cancers. Delaying cystectomy is well known to adversely impact survival among patients with bladder cancer [2] and early treatment may improve survival for head and neck and lung cancers as well [3,4]. Treatment delays do not appear to affect survival for either breast or colon cancer [5,6], but the current literature provides conflicting information regarding delayed RP for prostate cancer [1,7–11].

Pretreatment prognostic factors including serum PSA, Gleason score, AJCC staging, and preoperative risk models have been used to predict response to therapeutic intervention and patient outcomes. It is therefore not surprising that these same clinical markers have also been used by physicians, less formally, to help determine the urgency of treatment. In the present study, we examine the effect of delay from diagnosis to surgery on outcomes in men with localized prostate cancer and analyse the impact of the delay across well described patient risk categories.



Using the Institutional Review Board-approved Columbia University Urologic Oncology Database, we conducted a retrospective review of all patients treated with RP by five high-volume surgeons between 1990 and 2010. This query identified 2739 patients. Time to surgery (TTS) was defined as the period between the most recent positive prostate biopsy and RP. Of these patients, we excluded patients who had received neoadjuvant androgen deprivation (n= 41), adjuvant (n= 59) androgen deprivation or immediate adjuvant external beam radiation (n= 45), who had unknown biopsy dates (n= 615), and who had <12 months of follow-up after RP (n= 411). Records of patients with surgical delays of >180 days were reviewed to ensure that none of the patients included in the analysis had been placed on active surveillance with delayed curative intervention protocols. Biochemical recurrence (BCR) was defined as a single serum PSA level of ≥0.2 ng/mL at least 21 days after RP [12].


Men were divided into three groups based on surgical delay that has been previously reported in the literature: Group 1 (≤60 days), Group 2 (61–90 days), Group 3 (≥91 days) [8,10]. The clinicopathological characteristics were compared among the groups using anova for continuous variables and the chi-squared for categorical variables. Age at diagnosis and logarithmically transformed preoperative PSA levels were examined as continuous variables. Patient race/ethnicity (Caucasian vs. African-American vs. Hispanic vs. other), year of surgery (1990–1994 vs. 1995–1999 vs. 2000–2004 vs. 2005–2009), clinical stage (T1 vs. T2 vs. T3), Gleason sum (<7 vs. = 7 vs. >7), D'Amico risk group [13] and surgical approach were examined as categorical variables. The odds ratios (ORs) of adverse pathological findings at surgery (Gleason sum upgrade, positive surgical margins, extracapsular extension, seminal vesicle invasion and positive node status) were calculated for all TTS groups using logistical regression. Linear regression modelling was used to determine the effect of TTS as a continuous variable on BCR. Cox proportional hazards model was used to analyse the effect of age, race/ethnicity, PSA, clinical stage, biopsy Gleason sum, year of surgery, surgical approach and TTS on risk of BCR. BCR-free survival was compared across the TTS groups using the Kaplan–Meier method and the log-rank test. For all tests, two-sided P values <0.05 were considered to indicate statistical significance. All analyses were conducted using Stata version 11.0 (StataCorp, College Station, TX, USA).


In all, 1568 patients met the inclusion criteria for the study. The median age of patients at the time of diagnostic biopsy was 60 years (interquartile range [IQR]: 56, 66). The median (range) time to RP among the entire study cohort was 45 (36–847) days (IQR: 42, 65). A total of 1098 patients (70.0%) had surgery within 60 days, 303 patients (19.3%) waited 61–90 days and 167 patients (10.7%) delayed surgery for >90 days. Forty-one patients (2.6%) experienced a delay of >180 days. Table 1 shows the clinical and pathological characteristics of the three study groups, stratified by TTS. Men with lower biopsy Gleason grades and low-risk D'Amico stratification experienced longer delays than men from higher-risk groups or those with more advanced Gleason sum findings. Compared with men treated in the 1990s, men treated during the last 10 years of our study period were less likely to experience delays >60 days (P= 0.004). Furthermore, men electing to have robot-assisted prostatectomy experienced shorter delays to surgery than men undergoing open RP (P= 0.02). The median follow-up time after surgery was 64 months (IQR: 30, 93). During this time 275/1568 (17.5%) men experienced BCR. The ORs of adverse findings at prostatectomy across the TTS groups are shown in Table 2. No significant association was observed between TTS and adverse pathological findings including: Gleason sum upgrade, positive surgical margins, extracapsular extension, seminal vesicle invasion and positive lymph nodes.

Table 1.  Clinical and pathological characteristics
 Group 1:≤60 daysGroup 2:61–90 daysGroup 3:>90 daysP
No. of patients (%)1098 (70)303 (19.3)167 (10.7) 
Race/Ethnicity, n (%)   0.284
 White767 (69.9)228 (75.3)124 (74.3) 
 Black118 (10.7)21 (6.9)14 (8.4) 
 Hispanic87 (7.9)22 (7.3)8 (4.8) 
 Other126 (11.5)32 (10.5)21 (12.5) 
Median age (IQR)60 (55, 66)61 (56, 66)61 (57, 66)0.164
Year of surgery, n (%)   0.004
 1990–199463 (5.8)37 (12.2)23 (13.8) 
 1995–1999317 (28.9)109 (36.0)44 (26.4) 
 2000–2004354 (32.2)79 (26.0)53 (31.7) 
 2005–2009364 (33.1)78 (25.8)47 (28.1) 
Mean preoperative PSA (IQR)5.7 (4.3, 8.0)6.2 (4.7, 8.7)6.2 (4.5, 8.2)0.073
Clinical stage, n (%)   0.107
 cT1680 (61.9)186 (61.4)112 (67.1) 
 cT2410 (37.4)112 (36.9)55 (32.9) 
 cT38 (0.7)5 (1.7)0 (0) 
Biopsy Gleason sum, n (%)   0.012
 <7544 (50.0)159 (53.0)101 (61.2) 
 7412 (37.8)112 (37.3)57 (34.6) 
 >7133 (12.2)29 (9.7)7 (4.2) 
D'Amico Risk-Group, n (%)   0.005
 Low351 (34.1)109 (37.1)73 (47.7) 
 Intermediate554 (53.8)158 (53.7)72 (47.1) 
 High125 (12.1)27 (9.2)8 (5.2) 
Surgical approach   0.024
 Open884 (80.5)264 (87.1)140 (83.8) 
 Robot-assisted214 (19.5)39 (12.9)27 (16.2) 
Median follow-up (IQR)57 (27, 86)65 (38, 108)64 (37, 99) 
Table 2.  Odds ratio of adverse pathological findings at surgery
 ≤60 days61–90 days (95% CI)>90 days (95% CI)P
Gleason sum upgrade1.00 (ref)1.11 (0.83–1.48)1.08 (0.78–1.44)0.48, 0.96
Positive surgical margin1.00 (ref)1.13 (0.85–1.51)1.06 (0.66–1.41)0.38, 0.86
Extracapsular extension1.00 (ref)1.03 (0.78–1.35)0.95 (0.69–1.04)0.84, 0.07
Seminal vesicle invasion1.00 (ref)0.91 (0.69–1.20)0.91 (0.62–1.11)0.49, 0.45
Positive lymph nodes1.00 (ref)0.87 (0.56–1.33)0.99 (0.59–1.68)0.53, 0.68

To examine if treatment delay led to a higher risk of disease progression, we used a linear regression model to analyse TTS as a continuous variable. In this model, TTS was not associated with BCR (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.02, 95% CI: 0.98–1.04; P= 0.29). On univariate analysis older age, non-Caucasian race, higher preoperative PSA level, advanced clinical stage and biopsy Gleason grade were all associated with increased risk of BCR (Table 3). A significant association was not found between year of surgery, surgical approach or TTS group and BCR. In a multivariate model comprised of all variables that showed a significant association with BCR on univariate analysis, older age (HR: 1.02), higher PSA (HR: 1.53), intermediate and high D'Amico risk groups (HR: 1.89, 1.93), clinical stage >cT1 (HR: 1.41, 3.59), biopsy Gleason sum >6 (HR: 1.95, 4.42), and African-American race (HR: 1.93) were all significantly associated with BCR. Delay to prostatectomy of >60 days was not associated with higher rates of clinical progression.

Table 3.  Cox proportional hazards model of risk of BCR
 Whiteref  ref  
Preoperative PSA1.951.61–2.36<0.0011.531.26–1.85<0.001
Clinical stage      
 cT1ref  ref  
Biopsy Gleason      
 <7ref  ref  
Year of surgery      
D'Amico Risk-Group      
 Lowref  ref  
Minimally invasive surgery      
TTS Group      
 ≤60 daysref  ref  
 61–90 days1.190.89–1.580.241.260.94–1.700.12
 >90 days1.270.75––1.310.43

When examining only a group of men at high risk of BCR by D'Amico criteria, no differences in recurrence rates were observed between the three TTS groups according to the log-rank test (P= 0.479). Kaplan–Meier analysis showed a 5-year BCR-free survival of 80% in men who underwent RP < 60 days after last positive biopsy. The results were similar for men who underwent RP within 61–90 days, and >90 days of last positive biopsy (78% and 85%, respectively; P= 0.11 [Fig. 1]).

Figure 1.

Kaplan–Meier estimates of BCR rates, stratified by time from last positive biopsy to surgery.


Patients initially diagnosed with prostate cancer face an ever-growing number of decisions about how best to proceed with their treatment. In this setting, logistical factors such as insurance coverage, personal conflicts and surgeon and operating room availability, as well as patients' desire to explore multiple treatment options, are likely to cause delays in therapy. Choosing an appropriate treatment for prostate cancer has become even more complicated in recent years, as the dramatic increase in prevalence of PSA screening has led to a stage migration toward lower-risk disease among newly diagnosed patients [14]. This dynamic has allowed many patients to elect to have delayed treatment or active surveillance protocols in an effort to prevent overtreatment and the morbidities associated with aggressive therapeutic interventions [15,16]. Nevertheless, the characteristics of early lesions are not well understood, and the safety of active surveillance protocols has not been completely assured. The optimum management for these early-stage lesions of uncertain biological potential, therefore, remains controversial.

Given this uncertainty, attempting to understand the prognostic significance of delays in surgical treatment becomes essential to providing patients with the best chance of a cure without unnecessarily compromising quality of life. The benefits of early definitive treatment for prostate cancer have been suggested by reports of improved stage- and grade-specific progression-free survival rates after RP in the PSA era [17]; however, the impact of delayed time to all treatment varies in the oncology literature. Early treatment appears to confer a survival advantage for bladder, head and neck and lung cancers [2–4], but delays in treatment are not associated with a decline in overall survival rates for either breast or colon cancer [5,6]. Meanwhile, the effect of delaying radiation therapy has been shown to affect outcomes in prostate cancer patients with high-risk but not intermediate- or low-risk disease [18]. For patients choosing surgical treatment, the question of the effect of surgical delay on clinical outcomes in prostate cancer remains uncertain, with studies to date showing inconsistent results [1,7–11].

Based on a study population of 645 Canadian patients, Nam et al.[7] found an insignificant increase in risk of BCR among patients who had a delay of >3 months between diagnostic biopsy and RP (OR 1.58, P= 0.09). The authors also found improved 10-year recurrence-free survival rates for patients who underwent early surgery vs those who had delayed intervention (74.6% vs 61.3%, P= 0.05). Similarly, Freedland et al.[8] explored the clinical outcomes of 895 patients in a low-risk group (PSA < 10 and Gleason score ≤ 6). While the authors found no association between surgical delay and negative pathological outcomes (high grade disease, positive surgical margins or extraprostatic extension), longer delays were associated with an increased risk of BCR (log rank P= 0.01). Controlling for other risk factors, surgical delay was associated with a significantly higher risk of BCR (RR 2.73, P= 0.002) for patients who waited >180 days before surgery.

There have also been a number of studies that detected no such relationship between delayed surgical intervention and prostate cancer outcomes. Van den Bergh et al.[1] examined 227 men with low-risk disease who underwent either immediate RP (mean [sd] time to RP 0.5 [0.2] years) or expectant management followed by RP (mean [sd] time to RP 2.6 [2.0] years), and found no significant difference in risk of negative pathological features (extracapsular extension, positive margins or tumour size) between the two groups. The authors did find a decreased rate of BCR among the immediate RP cohort (9% at 10 years, vs. 35% for delayed RP), but these results were not significant (log-rank P= 0.689). In an earlier series, Vickers et al.[19] reported on the effect of treatment delay on BCR for 3149 patients with clinically localized prostate cancer treated within 1 year of diagnosis [19]. In a multivariate model controlling for stage, Gleason score and PSA, the authors found that a delay of ≤1 year had no significant effect on risk of BCR at 3, 5, 8 or 10 years of follow-up (P > 0.2 for all).

Boorjian et al.[10] also reported on this same series of 3149 patients, and found that time to RP, treated as either a continuous or categorical variable (divided at 90 days), had no significant effect on risk of subsequent BCR. Notably, time to RP was still not an independent predictor of BCR after stratifying by preoperative risk, such that delays of >90 days did not adversely affect outcome for patients with a nomogram-predicted risk of BCR of 40% (P= 0.548) [9]. In two other large series, Khan et al.[10] showed no association between time to RP and risk of BCR for surgical delays of ≥151 days, and Graefen et al.[11] also reported no association between time to surgery (continuous variable) and BCR, even for patients with high-grade disease.

In the present study, we found no association between TTS and risk of BCR, even for patients with longer delays or higher-risk disease. These data suggest that nearly all patients with localized prostate cancer can be reassured that wait times of reasonable length will not affect their chances of cure after definitive treatment. Furthermore, our results support the continued use of deferred treatment or active surveillance protocols for appropriately selected patients with low-risk disease [20].

While our findings are consistent with a number of previous studies [1,9–11], the reason for variation among reports in the literature is not immediately clear. Common thinking would suggest that the indolent nature of progression for localized prostate cancer is such that surgical delays which may seem quite long (up to 150 days in some reports [10]) are actually relatively short compared with the disease course, and thus do not allow for clinical progression to occur before definitive treatment. Unfortunately this logic cannot explain why some studies have reported worse outcomes among patients who delayed treatment, particularly since these studies [7,8] used similar time cut-off points (for defining early vs. delayed treatment) to studies that found no association between surgical delay and adverse outcomes [1,9–11]. Although the studies have attempted to control for potential confounders such as age, clinical or tumour stage and Gleason score between groups, all reports to date have been retrospective, so it is possible that unmeasurable factors affecting time to RP, such as surgeons' clinical judgment, may have biased the results of these studies. As such, further study in prospective trials would be needed to assess more definitively the effects of treatment delay.

It is well known, however, that some patients with clinically localized prostate cancer, particularly those with intermediate- or high-risk disease, will eventually progress to metastatic disease if left untreated [21]. We must assume, therefore, that for these patients, there is a point after which it is no longer safe to delay definitive therapy. This reasoning is particularly relevant to African-American men, who are known to be at greater risk of dying from prostate cancer [22]. An interesting finding in the present study is that, on multivariate analysis, African-American race continued to be an independent predictor of BCR while controlling for all other covariates. This finding is consistent with earlier results from our centre, which showed that African-American men are significantly more likely than Caucasian or Hispanic men to have an adverse change in their nomogram-predicted risk of BCR after RP [23]. These results suggest that apart from standard measures of preoperative risk such as clinical stage, Gleason score, and PSA, there may be inherent differences in tumour biology that portend worse outcomes for African-American patients.

The biology of localized prostate cancer also presents a potential research area that would help to address questions of the effect of treatment delay. Early tumour biology is not completely understood, but patients with longer TTS may have higher rates of micrometastases as a result of delays in the removal of the primary tumour. One study detected tumour cells in bone marrow using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and immunocytochemistry in 56% of patients with organ-confined disease [24]. Micrometastases may be a result of, or accompanied by, molecular changes that are, at least theoretically, more likely to accumulate with delay in removal of the primary lesion. Although they are still being defined, multiple gene alterations have been associated with both pathological features of high-risk prostate cancer and also with disease-specific mortality [25,26]. The present study was not designed to detect either micrometastases or molecular changes caused by delays in definitive surgical treatment, but further research may help to incorporate these factors into the clinical management of men with prostate cancer.

The present study has several limitations that warrant a brief discussion. First, as it is a retrospective study, the findings could be confounded by selection bias, as well as by variables that were not included in the analysis. Additionally, as our institution is a tertiary academic centre, a significant number of patients that are treated have had their biopsies performed elsewhere, with the slides re-reviewed by our institution's uropathologist. The exact date of the biopsy could not be verified in 611 (22%) patients, and as a result they were excluded from the analysis. Given that detection of death from prostate cancer requires long follow-up times, this study used a number of surrogate endpoints, including pathological findings, a post-RP nomogram and BCR, to predict negative clinical outcomes associated with disease. These have all been previously validated as surrogate outcomes in prostate cancer [27–29], but we must assume that they are not perfect predictors of disease-specific mortality. Despite these limitations, the present study represents one of the largest series to date examining the effect of delayed RP. As such, it supports the existing evidence that delays in surgical treatment have no adverse effects on long-term cancer control for men with localized prostate cancer.

In conclusion, in this study of 1568 men with prostate cancer treated with RP, we found no association between delayed TTS and risk of either BCR or adverse pathological outcome. These data suggests that men with localized prostate cancer can be reassured that reasonable delays in treatment will not influence disease outcomes.


None declared.