If you are a man over the age of 50 and mingling in a room full of your friends, you can bet that you will encounter someone with prostate cancer. That is because 1 in 6 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, making it the most common solid organ cancer in men. Black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer are at an even higher risk. In all, almost a quarter of a million men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and nearly 30,000 men will die from it.
These are scary numbers. The good news is that there are steps that men can take to avoid becoming a statistic. In simple terms, there are two ways that a man can reduce his risk of dying from this disease. First, he can consider lifestyle choices that may reduce his chances of ever getting prostate cancer. 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. We all know that a healthy lifestyle is important. As a physician I see daily the terrible tolls that obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and tobacco abuse take on length and quality of life. Statistics clearly 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 habits that may do so and will generally make you healthier and livelier. Start with a low fat diet. This means avoiding large portions of meats, nuts, oils, cheese, and other dairy products. Fats from animals seem to be the most risky, so try to gravitate towards fats from plant products such as olive oil and nuts. If you are a big meat eater, consider adding in some fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce your prostate cancer risk. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, there are plenty of reasons to add them to your plate, although no specific nutrient has been shown to predictably reduce prostate cancer risk. It is certainly possible that the antioxidants in fruits such as 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 expect to maintain a healthy weight. Obese patients are more likely to die from prostate cancer than thinner patients.
Let’s move on to early detection. If prostate cancer is found before it spreads beyond the prostate, it is usually curable. But 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 will not cause any symptoms at all. Therefore the best way to ensure that prostate cancer is found in the curable stage is a yearly checkup with a urologist or primary care physician. This should begin at age 40 to 50, depending on risk factors. Your doctor should know when to start screening, so ask him or her! At each visit the doctor should perform a rectal exam with his finger to check for any hard nodules on the prostate, as well as a PSA blood test, which can help us detect cancer even in patients without any prostate nodules. If your doctor finds either a prostate nodule or an abnormal PSA, he may recommend a prostate biopsy.
Live a long, healthy life with prostate cancer prevention and early detection!
By Dennis Kubinski, MD, a board certified urologist with Charleston Urology Associates and a Roper St. Francis Physician Partner