Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in people with a prostate. According to data collected by the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death, behind lung cancer, among men in the United States. While there’s no way to effectively prevent prostate cancer, there are some things you can do to lower your risk. In this article, we’ll cover what you can do to lower your risk of prostate cancer, but first, let’s start by first understanding what prostate cancer is, and what causes it.
Understanding Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is cancer that occurs in the prostate. The prostate is a small, walnut-shaped gland that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. As previously mentioned, prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, accounting for nearly 1.4 million cases worldwide in 2020.
Many cases of prostate cancer grow slowly and are confined, for the most part, to the prostate gland. In these cases, the cancer may not cause serious harm, and can even go undetected for long periods. However, in more serious cases, prostate cancer can be aggressive and spread quickly.
In its early stages, prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms. When it becomes more advanced, it may cause some of the following symptoms:
- Trouble urinating
- Decreased force in the stream of urine
- Blood in the urine
- Blood in the semen
- Bone pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Erectile dysfunction
As with most cancers, prostate cancer that is detected early, while it’s still confined to the prostate gland, has the best chance for successful treatment.
What Causes Prostate Cancer?
It’s not entirely clear what causes prostate cancer. Doctors understand that prostate cancer begins when cells within the prostate start to change their DNA. These changes cause the cell to start to grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells. When this happens, the abnormal cell growth continues, while other cells die off, this typically results in tumors. In time, some abnormal cells can break away and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Some gene mutations can be passed from generation to generation (inherited) and are found in all cells in the body. Inherited gene changes are thought to play a role in about 10% of prostate cancers. Cancer caused by inherited genes is called hereditary cancer.
How to Lower Your Risk of Prostate Cancer
When we talk about how to lower your risk of prostate cancer, it’s important to understand that there are two types of risk factors at play: those that you can change, and those that you cannot. Risk factors that you can change include things like lifestyle, such as diet and exercise, while risk factors you cannot control include things like race and age.
Below, we’ll cover how to lower your risk of prostate cancer, as well as what risk factors you should keep an eye on. Let’s first start by covering the things you can change.
Things You Can Change
When it comes to lowering your risk of prostate cancer, a great starting point is to understand the variables that you are in control of. While things like your age, race, and family history are unchangeable, there are many things you can do to lower your risk. Let’s take a look at these controllable risk factors, starting with your diet.
Eat a Healthy Diet
There is some evidence that choosing a healthy diet may contribute to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Researchers have found that diets low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables show promising results, but they have yet to be proven concretely. Still, a healthy diet is recommended by almost all healthcare professionals, not only for lowering your risk of prostate cancer but for living a healthier life in general.
If you want to reduce your risk of prostate cancer, consider trying to:
- Choose low-fat foods: Foods high in fats include meats, nuts, oils, and dairy products. Some studies have shown that people who ate the highest amount of fat each day had an increased risk of prostate cancer. It’s important to note that this does not prove a definitive link, and other studies have had conflicting results. Still, reducing the amount of fat you eat each day has other proven benefits, such as helping you control your weight and helping your heart.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and nutrients that are thought to help lower your risk of prostate cancer. Research has yet to prove that any particular nutrient is guaranteed to reduce your risk. An easy way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables is to add another serving to each meal throughout the day.
- Reduce your dairy product consumption: In some studies, those who ate high amounts of dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, each day had the highest risk of prostate cancer. It’s important to note that these study results have been mixed, and the risk associated with dairy products is thought to be small. Still, dairy products can be especially high in fats, which can have other negative effects on your health.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Weight is another risk factor for prostate cancer that you can, to some extent, control. Some studies have found that people who were obese, meaning those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, may have an increased risk of prostate cancer. Another study found that obese individuals have a lower risk of getting a low-grade (slower-growing) form of the disease, but a higher risk of getting more aggressive (faster-growing) prostate cancer.
If you are overweight, or if you are looking to lose weight, working on losing weight doesn’t have to be difficult, or involve lengthy periods of excessive exercise. A great place to start is by simply lowering your calorie intake. If you’d like, you can try working in exercise when you can.
Get Regular Exercise
Studies of exercise and prostate cancer risk have mostly shown that men who exercise may have a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Along with a potential lowered risk of prostate cancer, exercise has many other health benefits, including lowering your risk of heart disease and other cancers.
If you don’t already exercise daily, talk with your doctor about whether or not it’s right for you. If you get the green light, start slowly. You can add light physical activity to your daily activities by doing things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or by parking farther away from where you’re going. Whatever you do, try to aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day, for at least four days a week.
Talk With Your Doctor About Your Risk
Lastly, one of the best ways to lower your risk of prostate cancer is to understand if you are at risk. You can do this by making an appointment with your doctor to talk about what steps you can take to lower your risk, and how at-risk you may be. Unfortunately, some people simply have a higher risk of prostate cancer than others. If this is you, there may be other options for risk reduction, such as medications. If you believe you may be at risk for prostate cancer, talking with your doctor is a great place to start.
Things You Can’t Change
While there are many things you can do to lower your risk of prostate cancer, there are several things that you cannot. For the most part, these include things like age, race, and family history. Certain risk factors like where you live can also play a role in your risk for prostate cancer, but to what extent and how is still unclear.
Below are the three most significant risk factors for prostate cancer that you cannot change.
Age is perhaps the most significant risk factor for prostate cancer, and unfortunately, it’s one that you cannot change. In fact, doctors often refer to prostate cancer as a “disease of aging.” As you get older, your cells become damaged, and your ability to repair them slows. This damage can then build up as you age, which can sometimes lead to cancer.
Prostate cancer is rare in people under 40, however, the chances of developing it increase dramatically after age 50. About 6 out of every 10 cases of prostate cancer are found in people above the age of 65.
While the reasons why are still unclear, there does seem to be a racial and ethnic component to prostate cancer risk. Prostate cancer develops more often in African American individuals and Caribbean individuals of African ancestry than in people of other races. Furthermore, when it does develop in these individuals, they tend to be much younger. Conversely, prostate cancer appears to occur less often in Asian American and Hispanic/Latino individuals than in non-Hispanic whites.
Lastly, prostate cancer appears to run in some families, which suggests that there may be an inherited or genetic factor. Even with a supposed link to genetics, most prostate cancer occurs in people with no family history.
Having a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with prostate cancer more than doubles your risk. This is risk is higher if you have more than one family member with prostate cancer, especially if that family member was younger when it was found.
If you’re wondering how to lower your risk of prostate cancer, understanding what you can and cannot control is important. If you know that prostate cancer runs in your family, or if you’re above the age of 50, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risk levels. They may recommend that you make certain lifestyle changes like regular exercise and a healthier diet. While there’s no way to eliminate your risk of prostate cancer, following the steps above may help lower your risk.
How Do You Lower Your Risk of Prostate Cancer?
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