How to Lower Your Risk of Prostate Cancer

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There are three three basic ways to theoretically lower the death rate from any particular cancer:

1. Prevention: decreasing one’s chances of getting the disease in the first place

2. Screening: detecting the cancer early while it’s still treatable and curable

3. Better treatment: improving the tools clinicians have to treat and cure the cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most widely diagnosed cancers in men. Each year, about a quarter of a million cases are diagnosed in the US. Despite this frequency, because the disease is rarely lethal, prostate cancer results in only about 30,000 deaths per year. Still, decreasing that number would be a huge accomplishment.

The Drawbacks of Prostate Cancer Screening

One major stumbling block is our lack of an effective approach to screening for prostate cancer. The most common screening test–the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test–is turning out to be highly problematic, since it detects many tumors that are either benign or, even if technically cancerous, unlikely to cause harm. (Counterintuitive as it may seem, the vast majority of prostate cancers will either be destroyed or kept at bay by the patient’s own defenses, without any medical treatment.) The PSA test doesn’t enable us to distinguish the small subset of life-threatening prostate cancers from the large number of prostate cancers that are essentially harmless. Thus, in our quest to find the deadly cancers, we make a lot of extra diagnoses, which come at a steep price: unnecessary procedures (biopsies and surgeries) and treatment with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and radiation therapy, all of which are fraught with dangerous side effects and which, in many cases, are probably doing the patient no good.

Therefore, much recent attention has focused on preventing the disease. There were high hopes for the drug finasteride (Proscar), which has been used successfully to treat benign enlargement of the prostate gland, which can cause symptoms such as urinary frequency and difficulty urinating. But while it turns out that the drug does reduce the number of diagnoses of prostate cancer, it has no impact on mortality from prostate cancer. In other words, it probably only prevents the development of those relatively unimportant cancers that will never cause any clinical problems.

6 Habits to Lower Your Risk of Prostate Cancer

But–finally–we have some good news. A recent report from the European Cancer Congress in the Netherlands found that men who follow at least five of six lifestyle habits can significantly lower their risk of developing lethal prostate cancer. These habits are:

  • Including tomatoes in your diet
  • Eating a diet low in processed meats
  • Eating fatty fish
  • Keeping thin
  • Not smoking
  • Exercising regularly

The benefit is substantial: a 39 percent lower risk of dying from prostate cancer. A second, smaller study seconded these results, finding an even greater reduction of 47 percent.

The really good news is that these lifestyle habits also reduce the risk of heart disease, and they come pretty much free of side effects (except for maybe a sore knee or back from exercising, or choking–briefly–on a fish bone).

So if you’re a man concerned about prostate cancer, here are some simple steps to take to dramatically reduce your chances of dying from the disease (which is of course the ultimate goal of any cancer intervention). And you’ll feel better, look better, and have a healthier heart in the process!

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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