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Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among men with roughly 1 in 9 receiving a diagnosis in their lifetime. Thankfully, it can be treated with a high likelihood of survival if diagnosed early.
Risk Factors of Prostate Cancer
Researchers have found several factors that may increase a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer. While you can’t change some of these, it’s important to be aware if any of the following are present:
- Age – The chance of prostate cancer greatly increases in men age 50 and older.
- Race – Studies show that prostate cancer occurs more often in men of African descent than in men of other races. The cancer also appears to be more aggressive or advanced in black men.
- Geographic location – Prostate cancer is most common in North America, Northwestern Europe, Australia, and on the Caribbean islands.
- Family history – The chance of getting prostate cancer is twice as likely if there has been a family member, such as a father or brother, diagnosed with the disease. The risk is even higher for men with several relatives who have been diagnosed. Also, if you have a family history of genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.
- Lifestyle – Certain lifestyle habits may have a connection to men getting a more aggressive prostate cancer. Eating too much saturated fat (i.e. red meats and dairy) and not enough fruits and vegetables can put men at a slightly higher risk, as can being obese (very overweight). Smoking tobacco is another factor to consider. Although smoking has not been linked to getting prostate cancer, research has shown that it may contribute to the increased risk of dying from prostate cancer.
The presence of one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop prostate cancer. It’s a good idea, however, to have regular prostate cancer screenings, especially when risk factors are present. Currently, prostate screening is recommended for men ages 55 to 69. Your doctor can help you determine when to begin prostate cancer screening given your personal history and risk factors. While screening tests cannot prevent prostate cancer, it is possible to achieve a better outcome after treatment, if detected early.
Causes of Prostate Cancer
The specific cause of prostate cancer is not yet known. But we know that mutations in a normal prostate cell’s DNA can cause the cell to grow uncontrollably. The cause of these mutations can be from an inherited gene in some cases. Studying both the DNA changes in prostate cells and the risk factors will continue to help cancer researchers learn more about how prostate cells become cancerous.
Preventing Prostate Cancer
There is no guaranteed way to prevent prostate cancer. There are, however, a few things you can do that may lower your risk of getting the disease, which include:
- Eating healthier and being more active – Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be decrease the risk for prostate cancer. To learn more, you can read through the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.
- Taking medication – Certain drugs may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Some studies suggest that taking 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (5-ARIs), including finasteride (Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart), may reduce the overall risk of developing prostate cancer. These drugs are currently used to control non-cancerous growth of the prostate. Talk with your doctor if you would like to learn more about these drugs.
- Avoiding smoking – Smoking harms nearly every organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Although quitting smoking may not prevent you from getting prostate cancer, it may increase your chances of surviving it if you are diagnosed.
Prostate Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. Prostate cancer usually grows very slowly, and doesn’t tend to cause any symptoms until it’s at a more advanced stage. However, there are some types of prostate cancer that grow aggressively and can spread quickly causing a sudden onset of symptoms.
Some common signs and symptoms you need to be aware of may include:
- Pain or burning while urinating
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate, especially at night
- Difficulty starting urination and/or straining to empty bladder
- Weak, dribbling, or interrupted flow of urine
- Blood in the urine or in semen
- Recent trouble getting an erection (erectile dysfunction or ED)
- Painful ejaculation
- Discomfort when sitting (caused by an enlarged prostate)
- Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
- Loss of bladder control
- Pain or pressure in the lower back, hips, testicles, rectum or pelvis
Most of these problems can be the result of something other than prostate cancer. For example, urination issues could be related to benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), which is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate. Additionally, ED issues could be related to factors such as smoking, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or simply getting older.
Even still, if you are experiencing symptoms it’s important to have them checked out by a doctor, even if they turn out to something other than prostate cancer.
Regular screenings can help your doctor diagnose prostate cancer and direct you for treatment, if needed, with more positive outcomes. Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms, you may want to consult with your doctor about prostate cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends that you start discussing prostate cancer screenings with your doctor around the age of 40, but when you begin being screened for prostate cancer will depend on your family history, medical history, and risk factors. Together, you can decide what would be best for you.