Approximately 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, making it one of the most common types of cancers affecting men.
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent prostate cancer. But with the right lifestyle and healthy choices, you can reduce your risk.
Let’s talk about risk factors, symptoms, and steps you can take to reduce your risk of prostate cancer.
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer occurs in the male prostate, a walnut-shaped gland that produces seminal fluid. It’s one of the most common cancers in men. When detected early, prostate cancer has a higher chance of successful treatment. Some prostate cancers grow slowly, while other types are aggressive and can spread rapidly.
Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer
Family History. Around 20 percent of prostate cancers are considered familial prostate cancer. This means if you have a parent, sibling, or close biological relative who has had prostate cancer, your risk for developing it increases, too. Familial prostate cancer develops due to a combination of shared genetics, similar environmental factors, and lifestyle factors.
Some research suggests your risk is also higher if a family member has been diagnosed with breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer.
Age. Similar to most other cancers, prostate cancer risk increases with age. In fact, men aged 65 or older account for around 60 percent of prostate cancer diagnoses. Prostate cancer diagnosis is rare in men younger than 40, and increases rapidly after age 50.
Ethnicity/Race. African American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry have the highest risk of developing prostate cancer among all races/ethnicities. Among this ethnic group, diagnoses are more likely to occur in younger ages.
Poor Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle Choices. Those who are overweight have higher risks of developing many cancers, prostate cancer included. Research is ongoing, but initial explanations for the link between body weight and cancer risk involve poor insulin regulation, high levels of inflammation, and high levels of estrogen (which can help some cancers thrive).
Gene Changes. Certain inherited genes may raise your risk for prostate cancer. However, experts believe these genetic changes account for only a small number of diagnoses. Men who inherit BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes—genes that contributed to breast cancer risk—may have a high risk. Additionally, men with Lynch syndrome (also known as HNPCC, or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer) have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer, as well as several other types of cancer.
Smoking. Smoking increases the risk for developing many cancers, including prostate cancer.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
In the early stages, prostate cancer may not cause any symptoms. However, as prostate cancer evolves and spreads, it may cause signs and symptoms including:
- Difficulty urinating
- Pain or burning when urinating or ejaculation
- Weak urine flow
- Frequent urination
- Blood in the urine
- Seminal blood
- Bone pain, especially in the back, hips, or pelvis
- Unexplained weight loss
- Erectile dysfunction
When Should You Screen for Prostate Cancer?
Screening recommendations for prostate cancer vary based on personal and family history, as well as other risk factors. However, the earlier you catch a cancer diagnosis, the better the outcome usually is.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following when it comes to prostate cancer screening:
- Age 40 for men identified as extremely high risk. This includes men with more than one first-degree relative with prostate cancer at an early age.
- Age 45 for men at high risk. This includes African American men, and men with a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer younger than age 65.
- Age 50 for men with average risk.
You may also opt to take a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test as part of screening. This measures the amount of PSA in your blood, which is typically high in those with prostate cancer. The frequency of screenings may depend on the results of your PSA blood test and other screening outcomes.
Prevention Tips for Prostate Cancer
There’s no way to prevent prostate cancer entirely. However, there are ways to reduce your risk, and some of them boil down to small decisions you can implement every day.
Consume a Nutritious Diet
Ongoing research supports the claim that diet can increase or reduce overall cancer risk. The same goes for reducing your risk for prostate cancer. While the argument of what constitutes a “healthy diet” varies, most experts agree on the following tips to support optimal body mass index (BMI), a healthy immune system, and decreased cancer risk:
- Choose low-fat foods.Easy ways to reduce the amount of fat you eat include choosing leaner proteins like chicken breast or turkey, or opting for plant-based protein sources as a substitute. Avoid fried foods, select low-fat dairy products, and reduce the amount of fat/oil you use to cook with. You can still consume nutritious, fatty foods like nuts or avocados, but limit them to small amounts in moderation.
- Increase fruit and vegetable intake.Fruits and vegetables contain micronutrients that feed your body, mind, and overall health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables supports low inflammation throughout the body, which is ideal for disease prevention. Try eating a serving of fruit or vegetable with each meal, and incorporate them into snacks.
Movement is vital for a healthy body and mind, but ongoing research reveals exercise may delay or prevent prostate cancer as well.
Exercise is shown to reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases like cancer. If you’re new to exercise, you don’t have to overhaul your lifestyle overnight. Start by clearing physical activity with your healthcare provider. Your provider can make sure it’s okay for you to get started and may be able to recommend exercise that suits your health needs.
Find a movement you enjoy, like walking, running, biking, playing a sport, swimming, or strength training. Then start with 30 minutes per day, slowly increasing as your body allows.
Avoid Risk Factors
While you can’t change your age, genetics, or race/ethnicity, you can avoid risk factors like being overweight, smoking, or living a sedentary lifestyle. If you smoke, take the steps to quit. And you can work with your healthcare provider to adopt healthier lifestyle habits when it comes to diet and exercise in order to reduce your risk for prostate cancer.
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