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Prostate cancer: Lowering your risk
While there's no sure-fire way to prevent prostate cancer, research suggests that risk for the disease may be affected by lifestyle habits and certain medicines.
Prostate cancer is an important topic for many guys. After all, it's one of the most common cancers in men.
Unfortunately, when it comes to preventing prostate cancer, researchers are still looking for clear answers.
That doesn't mean men are completely powerless against the disease though.
Research suggests that healthy habits may potentially decrease a man's chances of getting prostate cancer or dying from the disease, and medicine has been shown to cut the risk as well.
Improve your diet
While research hasn't unequivocally proved the role of diet in prostate cancer risk, evidence suggests that diets high in fat, especially animal fat, may be a factor, says Durado Brooks, MD, vice president, cancer control interventions, prevention and early detection for the American Cancer Society (ACS). And because of the other proven benefits of reducing dietary fat, following a diet low in fat makes sense.
"You may be decreasing your prostate cancer risk, and you're certainly decreasing your risk of colorectal cancer, heart disease and a wealth of other health problems," Dr. Brooks says.
For cancer protection in general, the ACS suggests limiting fats from red meat, particularly high-fat and processed meats, and focusing on more plant foods—including five or more daily servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Researchers continue to investigate whether other dietary components or supplements can affect prostate cancer risk, such as:
Lycopene. Some studies have provided limited evidence that this antioxidant, which is obtained mostly from tomatoes and tomato products, may decrease prostate cancer risk, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). However, lycopene's potential benefit remains unproven. A recent study found no link between lycopene in the blood and prostate cancer risk.
"I think it's still an open question as to whether or not lycopene may be helpful," Dr. Brooks says.
Vitamin E and selenium. Earlier studies indicated that these antioxidants might protect against prostate cancer. However, in 2009, a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded study of more than 35,000 men found that neither supplement helped prevent the disease—and vitamin E alone may even increase the risk.
"Those are a couple of elements we thought and hoped would be protective but have been proven not to be useful, at least in the doses they were utilizing in the study," Dr. Brooks says.
Calcium. Some research suggests that consuming a lot of calcium or dairy products can increase prostate cancer risk. However, most studies have not found an increased risk from the amount of calcium found in a typical diet. In addition, calcium is an important nutrient, so it's important to get the recommended amount, the AICR notes.
It's important to note that neither the ACS nor the AICR recommends taking a supplement for cancer prevention. If you're considering taking any dietary supplement, speak with your doctor, the ACS advises.
Watch your weight, and stay active
Most studies on the topic have not found a link between obesity and prostate cancer. However, some research suggests that obese men may be at risk for more aggressive prostate tumors and that those who develop prostate cancer tend to fare worse than their healthy weight peers.
"Maintaining a healthy body weight and staying active may decrease your risk of dying from prostate and other types of cancers if you're diagnosed with the disease," Dr. Brooks says.
Talk with your doctor about medicines
In 2003, the NCI-funded Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) found that finasteride, a drug that lowers male hormone levels, may reduce a man's risk of prostate cancer by up to 25%.
Finasteride, which is part of a class of drugs called 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors, is prescribed for noncancerous prostate enlargement and male pattern baldness. It isn't approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for prostate cancer prevention. However, men concerned about prostate cancer can discuss the potential risks and benefits of finasteride and other 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors with their doctors.
PCPT participants who developed prostate cancer while taking finasteride appeared to have a slightly increased risk of aggressive tumors. More recent analyses of the findings suggest that finasteride did not cause these tumors but—because it shrinks the prostate gland—made them easier to find.
The big picture
There's no guarantee that any of the steps listed above will prevent prostate cancer. Also, the most important risk factors—being older than 50, being African American or having a family history of the disease—can't be controlled. But you may want to talk with your doctor about some of these ideas and learn the potential signs of prostate cancer, such as frequent or difficult urination. You may also want to learn more about your risk factors for prostate cancer by taking this risk assessment.
For information about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening, talk with your healthcare provider.