September is prostate cancer awareness month. For men, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer after skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer. In fact, one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and most cases occur in men over the age of 65.
Perhaps the best defense against prostate cancer is prevention. However, prevention is difficult because the causes of prostate cancer are not well understood. You can take meaningful preventive measures by engaging in physical activity and by deciding what you put on your dinner plate. Men who perform vigorous physical activity for three hours each week decrease their risk of advanced prostate cancer by 70 percent. Also, men in sitting occupations were found to have higher rates of prostate cancer compared to men who moved frequently at their job.
When it comes to the dinner plate, if you load it up with copious amounts of polyphenols you can help lower your risk of prostate cancer. Polyphenols are the beneficial, often colorful, compounds found in vegetables, herbs, spices, and fruits. The American Cancer Society recommends 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits daily. Maintaining healthy body weight is also important for prostate cancer prevention. Obesity is associated with higher rates of prostate cancer death, which may be due to the hormonal changes that accompany excess body fat.
In addition to taking the necessary preventive steps to reduce the risk of prostate cancer, the next step in fighting prostate cancer is early detection. S. Mark Bettag, MD, Sheboygan Cancer & Blood Specialists, SC says that, “detecting prostate cancer early gives us more options for treatment.”
Symptoms of prostate cancer include:
● Difficulty urinating, especially at night
● Blood in the urine
● Erectile dysfunction
● Back or hip pain
● Loss of bowel or bladder control
● Numbness or weakness in the lower extremities
“Men should be familiar with the symptoms of prostate cancer so they can notify their doctor at the first sign of an issue,” added Dr. Bettag.
In its earliest stages, prostate cancer may not cause any symptoms. Often, men view symptoms such as back pain as a normal part of getting older and don’t suspect it could be a sign of prostate cancer. Since symptoms are hard to rely on, other screening tools are important. For men of average risk, it is recommended that prostate cancer screening begins at age 50. Detecting prostate cancer usually starts by testing the level of prostate-specific antigen or PSA in the blood. A PSA above 4 ng/mL is abnormal and may be an indication of prostate cancer, although in some cases the PSA level will not rise above 4 despite the presence of a tumor. Further screening may include a digital exam from your doctor or ultrasound imaging. If a tumor is suspected the next step is often a biopsy to confirm the presence of a tumor and in determining its stage.
For men with prostate cancer, there are many treatment options. According to Dr. Bettag, “the man’s age, health and the stage of the cancer are taken into consideration when planning treatment. Fortunately, many prostate cancers are slow growing, which means if the man is not experiencing symptoms it may be appropriate to hold off on treatment and monitor the tumor.” More advanced and faster growing tumors require other treatments. These include:
● Prostatectomy – surgical removal of the prostate
● Radiation therapy
● Hormone therapy
In advanced cases of prostate cancer, the cancer can metastasize or spread to other areas of the body. Prostate cancer often spreads to bone tissue and lymph nodes. This scenario is the most difficult to treat. “To avoid serious cases of prostate cancer the emphasis is on prevention, early detection, and early treatment,” said Dr. Bettag.
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Giovannucci EL, Liu Y, Leitzmann MF, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A Prospective Study of Physical Activity and Incident and Fatal Prostate Cancer. Arch Intern Med. 2005;165(9):1005-1010.
University of California, Los Angeles. “Men Who Are Continually Active at Work May Have Decreased Prostate Cancer Risk, Study Suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2008.