Screening, Healthy Eating and Exercise (and More)
Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. Despite its prevalence, there are many myths and misconceptions regarding prostate cancer. Ultimately, gaining knowledge is the best way to be proactive in maintaining your health. (Some delicious fruits and vegetables will help, too.)
Know Your Risk Factors
The prostate is a walnut-sized, gland located just in front of the bladder and above the rectum. Northwestern Medicine Urologic Oncologist Ashley Evan Ross, MD, PhD, explains, “The urethra runs through the prostate like a tunnel through a mountain. The prostate’s main function is to secrete fluids that make up a portion of the semen and protect the sperm.”
Although there are a number of conditions that can impact your prostate, such as an enlarged prostate or inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis), prostate cancer remains the most common non-skin cancer in men. Knowing your risk factors is one of the first lines of defense.
The risk for prostate cancer increases with age, with about 6 in 10 cases diagnosed in men who are 65 or older. Prostate cancer also develops more often in African American men and in men with a family history of cancer. “Genetic abnormalities can increase your risk for prostate cancer and, in some cases, increase your risk of developing aggressive disease,” says Dr. Ross. “If there is a strong family history of prostate, breast or ovarian cancer — all possibly related to the BRCA2 gene — men should consider beginning screening at a younger age.”
Screening and Prevention
In most cases, prostate cancer is detected before a man develops symptoms by routine screening with prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. This test, which is a blood test, measures the levels of the protein produced by the cells of the prostate gland. A higher level indicates a greater chance that prostate cancer is present.
“We want to diagnose prostate cancer when it’s early and most curable,” says Dr. Ross. “This is often when a patient is asymptomatic and can be treated before the cancer becomes widespread.”
The American Cancer Society recommends the PSA test and digital rectal examination screening for men starting at age 50. However, if your first-degree relative was diagnosed with prostate cancer or you are an African American man, your physician may recommend earlier screening. Discuss your family history with your physician to determine if you are at higher risk. In addition to screening, there are other ways to optimize your prostate health.
It is possible that certain supplements may improve your prostate health. However, Dr. Ross advises that the best source of nutrition is food. Although there is no one food that can prevent cancer, there are certain foods with added health benefits that may be associated with a lower cancer risk. Overall, Dr. Ross recommends eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. “Studies suggest that eating foods rich in the antioxidant lycopene, like tomatoes, are associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables have anti-inflammatory effects, among other benefits.” He recommends avoiding carcinogens, such as those in processed or charred meats.
Obesity can also increase your risk for cancer. One possible mechanism for this increase is chronic low-level inflammation, which can lead to DNA damage or an increased production of hormones that may stimulate or inhibit cell growth.
Keeping active is important for staying at a healthy weight, and it may even have anticancer effects. Dr. Ross suggests a minimum of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week, and 30 minutes of resistance training twice a week. “It does not have to be strenuous exercise,” he says. “Even walking and using resistance bands for that amount of time can be beneficial.”
Prostate cancer is common. For this reason, routine screening, including the PSA test, can be an invaluable tool to detect the disease before symptoms occur or the disease is widespread. It is also important to know your personal risks and maintain good prostate health. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are factors you can control. Consult your physician to see when you should have prostate cancer screening.