If you are a man over 50 in a room full of friends, you can bet that you’ll encounter someone with prostate cancer. That is because 1 in 6 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the most common solid organ cancer in men. Black men and men with a family history are at an even higher risk. In all, almost a quarter of a million men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and it will kill nearly 30,000.
The good news is that there are two ways a man can reduce his risk of dying from this disease. First, he can consider positive lifestyle choices. Second, he can take steps to help ensure that any cancer is detected early—when it has the very best chance of being eliminated forever with treatment.
Let’s start with prevention. A healthy lifestyle is truly important. As a doctor I regularly see the toll that obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and tobacco abuse take on the length and quality of life. Statistics show that if you can avoid these common pitfalls you will live longer. But what actually helps prevent prostate cancer? Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets. Studies looking at specific nutritional supplements—selenium and lycopene, for example—have been somewhat promising in some cases and disappointing in others.
If you are serious about reducing your risk, there are some healthy habits you can adopt, starting with a low fat diet. Avoid large portions of meats, oils, cheese and other dairy products. Fats from animals seem to be the most risky, so gravitate towards fats from plant products such as olive oil and nuts. If you’re a big meat eater, consider fish, which is high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. There are many reasons to add fruits and vegetables to your plate, although no specific nutrient has been shown to predictably reduce prostate cancer risk. It is possible that antioxidants in fruits like blueberries, or even in the green tea leaf, may be protective. The isoflavones in veggies such as soybeans, chickpeas, and lentils also may be of benefit.
If you eat as described above, and exercise regularly, you should maintain a healthy weight. Thinner patients are less likely to die from prostate cancer than obese patients.
Let’s move on to early detection. If prostate cancer is found before it spreads beyond the prostate, it is usually curable. Once it leaves the prostate it can make its way to bones and lymph nodes and become impossible to eliminate. Men should understand that when prostate cancer is in its early stage within the prostate, it won’t cause any symptoms at all. The best way to ensure that prostate cancer is found in the curable stage is a yearly checkup with an urologist or primary care doctor. This should begin at age 40 to 50, depending on risk factors. Your doctor should know when to start screening, so just ask! At each visit the doctor should perform a rectal exam to check for any hard nodules on the prostate, as well as a PSA blood test, which can help us detect cancer even if no nodules are present. If your doctor finds a nodule or an abnormal PSA, he may recommend a prostate biopsy.
Live a long, healthy life with prostate cancer prevention and early detection!
Roper St. Francis Healthcare