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Watchful waiting, also referred to as watch and wait (WAW), expectant management, observation and masterly inactivity, is an approach to a medical problem in which time is allowed to pass before further medical intervention or therapy is considered. During this time, repeated testing may be performed. Often watchful waiting is recommended in situations with a high likelihood of self-resolution or situations where the risks of intervention or therapy may outweigh the benefits. Watchful waiting is often recommended for many common illnesses such as ear infectionsAmerican Academy of Pediatrics; because the majority of cases resolve spontaneously, antibiotics will often be prescribed only after several days of symptoms. It is also a strategy frequently used in surgery prior to a possible operation, when it is possible for a symptom (for example abdominal pain) to either improve naturally or become worse. Another example involves the diagnosis and treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy.In many applications, a key component of watchful waiting is the use of an explicit decision tree or other protocol to ensure a timely transition from watchful waiting to another form of management, if necessary. This is particularly common in the post-surgical management of cancer survivors, in whom cancer recurrence is a significant concern.
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