Other than non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It’s also the second leading cause of death from cancer among men in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. While there isn’t a proven way to prevent prostate cancer, there are ways to reduce your risk by adopting a healthy way of eating, as well as making some lifestyle changes.
What is prostate cancer and who gets it?
Prostate cancer begins in the cells of the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. The prostate, which about the size of a walnut, sits just below the bladder, and it makes fluid that is part of semen.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and it tends to grow very slowly. It may not be very serious as long as it doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. However, as men get older, the chances of developing prostate cancer increase. Also, African American men have about double the chance of getting prostate cancer compared with white American men. African American men are also more likely to die from this disease than white men with prostate cancer. And, it can run in the family, so if your father, brother, or other blood relatives had or have prostate cancer, your chance of getting this is increased.
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What are symptoms of prostate cancer?
You may not have symptoms of prostate cancer, at least, early on. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that these are symptoms that could indicate prostate cancer:
- Difficulty starting urination
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Difficulty emptying the bladder completely
- Pain or burning during urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away
- Painful ejaculation
These symptoms may be signs of other conditions, too, so it’s important to see your health care provider right away if you have any of these.
Is there a link between diabetes and prostate cancer?
Men with type 2 diabetes are less likely to have prostate cancer than men without diabetes, according to a study published in 2017 in the journal Molecular Metabolism and also in 2018 in the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer. However, men with type 2 diabetes who develop prostate cancer are more likely to have the cancer spread to the lymph nodes and have a poorer prognosis. Prostate cancer is more aggressive in men with diabetes.
Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center — Temple Health looked at 3,176 men undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Of those, 600 men had type 2 diabetes. The men with diabetes who took insulin or who did not take any diabetes medicine had a lower 5-year survival rate, with a 200% increased risk of death compared with the men who did not have diabetes. The researchers believe that high blood sugar, insulin, and metformin “may activate cancer-related signaling pathways to cause tumors to grow or resist therapy, leading to poor outcomes.” However, the researchers point out that more research is needed, and they believe that men who have prostate cancer “may put the management of other diseases like diabetes on the backburner, and these patients may believe that the diagnosis of cancer gives them a free pass to live a less healthy lifestyle.” The recommendation? Have the cancer treated and actively manage other conditions, with approaches including diet, exercise, and appropriate medications.
How can you prevent prostate cancer?
The CDC states that out of every 100 American men, about 13 will get prostate cancer, and about two to three men out of the 100 will die. While you can’t change certain risk factors, such as age, race, and family history, there are steps that you can take to lower your risk.
It’s not surprising that the cornerstone of disease prevention (and health maintenance) is a healthy diet. It’s also not surprising that health experts recommend an eating plan that is low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables. Here are tips to consider to make sure your diet is in top form:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Researchers believe that the nutrients in fruits and veggies might help reduce the risk of prostate cancer (and other cancers, too). Aim to include fruits and vegetables at each meal, and if you like to snack, reach for these instead of high-fat processed snacks like chips or cookies. Also, choose whole fruits and vegetables (fresh and frozen are great) rather than drinking juice, which can impact your blood sugars. By the way, cooked tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene, which may slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. And cruciferous vegetables, such broccoli and cauliflower, contain sulforaphane, which has an anticancer effect.
Go easy with fat.
You don’t need to stop eating foods that contain fat, since some types of fat are healthy. However, in some studies, men who ate a high amount of fat each day had a higher risk of prostate cancer. Also, cutting back on fat can help with weight control and keep your heart healthy.
When you do eat fat, focus on “good” types of fat, such as vegetable oils, nuts, nut butters, fatty fish, and avocados. Fat from red meat, cheese, whole milk, butter and lard is saturated fat which is linked with increasing the risk of heart disease and inflammation.
Drink coffee and green tea.
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, drinking one to two cups of coffee daily may help prevent prostate cancer. Also, research suggests that men who drank seven cups of green tea every day had a lower risk of this disease. But stay away from the sugar, half and half, and cream! Also, keep in mind that caffeine may be an issue for you, leading to insomnia, dizziness, fast heart rate, and headaches.
Limit charred meat and other foods.
Charred food, from grilling or frying, may be tasty, but may contain a chemical that can increase cancer risk.
Reaching and staying at a healthy weight can help your health in many ways. Research shows that men who are overweight or obese and who have prostate cancer have more cancer recurrences after surgery; also, the risk of death increases. Being overweight or obese can increase insulin levels and a substance called insulin-like growth factor, which are thought to promote prostate cancer risk. In addition, obesity is associated with a lower concentration of free testosterone, which can result in the growth of aggressive prostate tumors, and it’s linked with inflammation which may affect prostate cancer occurrence.
Talk with your provider or dietitian to come up with a plan to help you reach a weight that is healthy and sustainable.
Getting regular physical activity provides a host of health benefits. When it comes to cancer prevention, being active helps to support a healthy immune system and it reduces inflammation. Another way that physical activity can combat prostate cancer is by helping with weight control, since obesity is linked with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and weight gain is connected with a recurrence of this cancer in men who have received prostate cancer treatment. Aim to be active most days of the week, ideally for at least 30 minutes at a time.
You already know that smoking is linked with heart disease and lung cancer. When it comes to prostate cancer, smoking raises the risk of an aggressive form of this cancer that metastasizes (spreads), according to a study published in the July 2018 issue of JAMA Oncology. This same study showed that men with prostate cancer who smoked had an 89% higher risk of dying from the disease than nonsmokers, and a 40% higher risk that the cancer would return.
If you smoke, ask your provider about options to help you quit. You can also get help here.
Talk with your provider about your risk of getting prostate cancer. The following resources can provide more information about this disease:
Want to learn more about preventing certain types of cancer? Read “What Is Colorectal Cancer and How Can You Lower Your Risk?” and “Skin Cancer: Types, Risk Factors, Prevention, and More.”