Dear Doctor: Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk of prostate cancer? No one in my family has had cancer, but I just turned 55 and want to do whatever I can to stay healthy.
Dear Reader: While there is no single approach to prevent prostate cancer, research has shown that certain lifestyle changes may reduce your risk of developing the disease. Considering that these behaviors also promote good health and well-being, you won’t go wrong by adopting any or all of them.
Let’s start with some facts about the disease.
Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men, right behind skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one in seven men will get a diagnosis of prostate cancer during his lifetime. However, that’s not as dire as it sounds. Prostate cancers grow slowly and are slow to spread. As a result, survival rates of prostate cancer are high. The five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent. The 15-year survival rate is 95 percent.
The major risk factors for prostate cancer are age, race, family history, a diet high in red meat and animal fat, and tobacco use. While the first three can’t be changed, they can alert you to be more vigilant.
About 70 percent of new cases of prostate cancer occur in men 65 and older. Men of African-American descent are at higher risk of developing the disease, and their cancers can be more aggressive. If you fall into those categories, and if cancer runs in your family, be sure to always include these facts in your medical history.
So how do you reduce your risk? Limit or skip red meat, dairy and animal fats. Opt for lean proteins like chicken, fish and turkey instead. Focus on healthy fats from plant-based sources like olive oil and nuts.
We’re sure you’ve heard it before, but that’s because it’s true: leafy greens, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cooked tomatoes (which contain lycopene), cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, soy products and green tea are also recommended.
Studies show that being obese or overweight is linked to higher rates of many kinds of cancer, including prostate cancer. Regular physical activity, which not only burns calories and fat but also builds muscle mass, results in a lower — and healthier — body mass index.
Do you use tobacco products? As physicians, we must ask you to please stop. Tobacco plays a role in a daunting array of diseases and conditions, including prostate cancer. We know that quitting can be difficult and have given our own patients a hand in leaving tobacco behind. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your physician.
Cancers that are caught early are more easily treated. That makes screening important. Thanks to new understanding about slow-growing prostate cancers, many physicians will now recommend active surveillance in older men with slow-growing tumors.
Robert Ashley, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.