Prostate Cancer: Lowering Your Risk

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After I wrote last week’s posting, I came across more information on how nutrition and diet may help lower the risk for prostate cancer, so I’ll share that this week. But first things first.

How is prostate cancer diagnosed?
Prostate cancer may be diagnosed during a physical exam; specifically, a digital rectal exam, during which the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for lumps, bumps, hard areas, or anything else unusual on the prostate. If cancer is suspected, your doctor may be able to tell which side it’s on and/or if it’s spread.

The other way that prostate cancer may be diagnosed is with a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. PSA is normally found in small amounts in the blood; higher amounts may indicate infection, inflammation, or cancer.

Of course, neither of these two tests can definitively confirm cancer. If something is suspicious, your doctor should recommend further testing, which may include an ultrasound and/or a biopsy of the prostate tissue. If cancer is found, it’s graded using something called a Gleason score, which ranges from 2 (nonaggressive) to 10 (very aggressive). Prostate cancer is then staged on a scale of I to IV, based mostly on whether the cancer has spread or not.

How is prostate cancer treated?
A diagnosis of any type of cancer usually signals the need for urgent attention and treatment. But with prostate cancer, if it’s in a very early stage, sometimes there is no treatment right away. Some men may never need treatment if it’s very slow growing. Of course, the doctor needs to check you regularly if this is the case.

Otherwise, prostate cancer may be treated surgically, which involves removing the prostate gland, some lymph nodes, and surrounding tissue. Radiation may be used, either with the use of an external beam of radiation or by placing radioactive “seeds” in the prostate itself. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and cryosurgery (freezing tissue to kill the cancer cells) are other options. There are pros and cons with each of these treatments.

Fortunately, the prognosis for prostate cancer is quite good. According to the American Cancer Society, the relative five-year survival rate is 100% and the relative ten-year survival rate is 98%.

Can prostate cancer be prevented?
While there are better treatments available for cancer, the key is to try to avoid it in the first place. Not surprisingly, diet and nutrition appear to play a role in helping to prevent prostate cancer. Here’s what you might consider:

Go easy on fat. If you’re limiting your carb intake because of your diabetes, you may be eating a lot of fat. Studies show that men who consumed the highest amount of fat each day had an increased risk of prostate cancer. Go easy on items such as fried foods, fatty meats and cheeses, and whole milk.

Use more vegetable fats. Don’t cut out fat completely. But when you use fat, use healthy fats, such as vegetable oils, avocado, nuts, and seeds. In one study, men who replaced 10% of their carb intake with vegetable fats had a 29% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer.

Fill up on fish. Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids) may slow the progression of prostate cancer compared to a traditional high-fat Western diet. So, try to include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring in your eating plan.

Give soy a try. Yes, real mean do eat tofu. It may not sound appealing, but eating tofu is linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer. If that doesn’t sound palatable, try eating more kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts.

Embrace the Mediterranean (diet). Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean diet, which is based on a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, legumes, nuts, and olive oil can be helpful in preventing prostate cancer.

Go easy with alcohol. There’s no concrete evidence that alcohol causes prostate cancer, but in one study, men who had several drinks per day for years had an increased risk.

Eat more tomato-based foods. A study at Harvard found that men who ate more tomato products, like spaghetti sauce, had a lower risk of prostate cancer. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene. It’s thought that lycopene may play a role in preventing a number of diseases, including prostate cancer. The key, though, is that the tomato needs to be cooked to release the lycopene, which means that eating tomato or marinara sauce or tomato paste are the best ways to get lycopene. And including a small amount of healthy fat, like olive oil, with these tomato products, helps to ensure that lycopene gets into the bloodstream.

Sip on some pomegranate juice. Researchers have found that compounds in pomegranate juice can stop the movement of prostate cancer cells and slow metastasis (in lab animals). But go easy: One cup of pomegranate juice has 150 calories and about 40 grams of carb. Try diluting pomegranate juice with water or seltzer water to limit its effect on blood glucose.

Watch your weight and exercise. Oldies but goodies: Being at a healthy weight and staying active can lower your risk of many types of cancer, as well as other diseases, too.

Interestingly, a study is going on now called the MEAL (Men’s Eating and Living) Study. In this, men with early-stage prostate cancer will eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day to hopefully slow the progression of cancer. Stay tuned!

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