Prostate Cancer and Prevention

I recently attended a meeting of physicians, surgeons, research scientists and concerned individuals for the Pacific Prostate Cancer Conference. Representatives of Oregon Health Sciences University spoke about their state-of-the-art prostate cancer research department. Every man reading this article can benefit from the advances made in prevention, detection and treatment of this disease.

Let’s begin with a brief review of our anatomy. The prostate gland is located around the bottom portion of a man’s bladder and is positioned behind the pubic bone and in front of the rectum. The prostate’s primary function is to produce most of the fluids in semen. Tiny ducts within the prostate convey this fluid to the urethra, the channel that drains urine from the bladder. This fluid is then released through the penis during ejaculation.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. It’s estimated that by age 50, up to 1 in 4 men have some cancerous cells in the prostate gland. By age 80, the ratio increases to 1 in 2. So, your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age. The average age at diagnosis is 72.

Prostate cancer also is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men. Yet unlike other cancers, you’re more likely to die with prostate cancer than you are to die from it. On average, an American man has about a 30 percent risk of having prostate cancer in his lifetime, but only about a 3 percent risk of dying of the disease.

The risk of prostate cancer is dramatically higher among blacks, intermediate among whites, and lowest among native Japanese. However, this increase in risk may be due to factors other than those associated with race. Studies have shown a link between levels of testosterone and prostate cancer risk, with black men having the highest levels.

Symptoms of prostate cancer include frequent urination, inability to urinate, blood in urine or semen, or painful ejaculation. Frequent low back pain, burning urination or a weak urine flow are also very common.

There is another condition of the prostate known as Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia or BPH. This is basically an enlarged prostate with no cancerous lesions. Symptoms for this condition are similar in many respects to prostate cancer. For example, Prostate-Specific Antigen or PSA levels can become elevated in both BPH and prostatic cancer.

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are the three most common approaches to treatment of prostate cancer. The selection of which method is used depends largely upon the extent of the disease. With the surgical removal of the prostate, there is an increased risk of osteoporosis similar to that of menopause in women. This problem is most often handled by using hormone replacement therapy postoperatively. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements have also been shown to be helpful in reducing this type of bone loss.

Natural measures for the prevention of prostate cancer include chemoprevention, changes in diet and lifestyle, and hormonal prevention. Chemoprevention is the use of specific natural or man-made drugs, vitamins, or other agents in order to reverse, suppress, or prevent cancer growth. Several agents, including difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), isoflavonoids, selenium, vitamins D and E, and lycopene have shown potential benefit according to studies. Further tests are needed to confirm this.

The herb, saw palmetto, was once thought to be the best natural supplement for prevention of prostate cancer. Recent studies lead researchers to believe saw palmetto to be much less powerful in its preventive effect.

A diet high in fat, especially animal fat, may be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. So, reducing red meat, cheese and other dairy products, salad dressings, and gravies is a good step. Increasing the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer in some studies. Adding soy products such as tofu and soy milk can be helpful in regulating hormonal balance. Exercise, even just plain old walking, has been shown to reduce the incidence of prostate and of practically all other cancers.

Since prostate cancer has a link to testosterone levels, studies are underway to discover the role of certain drugs, such as finasteride, that reduce the amount of male hormone as preventive agents for prostate cancer.

If you think you have experienced any of the symptoms listed in this article, check with your health care provider. Early detection of prostate cancer is very important in managing its damaging effects.

If you would like more information on any topic discussed in this column or to suggest ideas for an article, you can contact me my website.

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