Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate. The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland produces fluid that is one of the components of semen.1
Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin malignancy in men2 and is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer, except for lung cancer. However, microscopic evidence of (prostate?) cancer is found at autopsy in many if not most men. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that about 218,890 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in the United States during 2007. About 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only 1 man in 34 will die of it. A little over 1.8 million men in the United States are survivors of prostate cancer.3
Prognosis and Treatment
Treatment options and prognosis depend on the stage of the cancer, the Gleason score4, and the patient’s age and general health. With greater public awareness, early detection is on the rise and mortality rates are declining. Additionally, new advances in medical technology are enabling cancer patients to return to active and productive lives after their treatment.
Prostate Cancer Causes & Risk Factors
The causes of prostate cancer, as with other cancers, are broad and complex. There is no single perspective on what causes prostate cancer. There are, however, certain factors that are associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Age and Genetics
What is known is that prostate cancer is somewhat rare in men under 50 years old, with the risk of developing prostate cancer increasing thereafter. By the time they are 80, more than half of all men will have some cancerous growth, which may or may not require treatment.
Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, suggesting an inherited or genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is even higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time of diagnosis. Scientists have identified several inherited genes that seem to increase prostate cancer risk.
Some inherited genes increase risk for more than one type of cancer. For example, inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are the reason that breast and ovarian cancers are much more common in some families. The presence of these gene mutations also increases prostate cancer risk. But they are responsible for a very small percentage of prostate cancer cases.
Ethnic origin appears to play a part: men of African heritage seem to be at highest risk, and men of Asian descent the lowest.
Diet and Lifestyle
Lifestyle choices, diet and exposure to environmental toxins are thought to play a part in the development and speed of prostate cancer.
Diets high in red meat, calcium (dairy products) and bad cholesterol (LDL) are thought to significantly increase prostate cancer risk.
Diets high in grain carbohydates can also affect insulin levels, which may result in obesity. Combined with dietary contributors towards obesity, a lifestyle with little exercise may also lead to development of prostate cancer. Men with a body mass index (BMI) of 32.5 or higher are 30% more likely to die from prostate cancer, while men with a BMI of 35 are 60% more likely to have a recurrence of prostate cancer in 3 years.
Diets that are rich in raw foods and vegetables are known to help prevent prostate cancer. Antioxidant foods help reduce “free radicals” in the body, which damage cell structure and may be a trigger for cancer development. Some common antioxidants include lycopene (found in tomatoes), pomegranate, mangosteen, wheatgrass and seabuckthorn, though the field of antioxidant discovery and research is ever-changing.
There is also research suggesting dietary or supplemented sources of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, found predominantly in fish, can help prevent cancer, as well as having positive effects on the brain and cardiovascular function.
Additionally, supplementation of selenium, vitamin D and vitamin E are thought to be beneficial in preventing prostate cancer as they can lower PSA levels and inhibit tumor growth.