Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among American men. Prostate cancers usually grow slowly. Most men with prostate cancer are older than 65 years and do not die from the disease.
What Is the Prostate?
The prostate is a part of the male reproductive system, which includes the penis, prostate, and testicles. The prostate is 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). It produces fluid that makes up a part of semen.
As a man ages, the prostate tends to increase in size. This can cause the urethra to narrow and decrease urine flow. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia, and it is not the same as prostate cancer. Men may also have other prostate changes that are not cancer.
Symptoms of Prostate Cancer
Different people have different symptoms for prostate cancer. Some men do not have symptoms at all.
Some symptoms of prostate cancer are:
• Difficulty starting urination.
• Weak or interrupted flow of urine.
• Frequent urination, especially at night.
• Difficulty emptying the bladder completely.
• Pain or burning during urination.
• Blood in the urine or semen.
• Pain in the back, hips, or pelvis that doesn’t go away.
• Painful ejaculation.
If you have any symptoms that worry you, be sure to see your doctor right away. Keep in mind that these symptoms may be caused by conditions other than prostate cancer.
Research has found risk factors that increase your chances of getting prostate cancer. These risk factors include:
• Age: The older a man is, the greater his risk for getting prostate cancer.
• Family history: Certain genes (passed from parent to child) that you inherited from your parents may affect your prostate cancer risk. Currently, no single gene is sure to raise or lower your risk of getting prostate cancer. However, a man with a father, brother, or son who has had prostate cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease himself.
• Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men. It tends to start at younger ages and grow faster than in other racial or ethnic groups, but medical experts do not know why.
Researchers are trying to determine the causes of prostate cancer and whether it can be prevented. They do not yet agree on the factors that can influence a man’s risk of developing the disease, either positively or negatively.
Two tests are commonly used to screen for prostate cancer:
• Digital rectal exam (DRE): A doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to estimate the size of the prostate and feel for lumps or other abnormalities.
• Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test: Measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate. The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The PSA level may also be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate.
As a rule, the higher the PSA level in the blood, the more likely a prostate problem is present. But many factors, such as age and race, can affect PSA levels. Some prostate glands make more PSA than others. PSA levels also can be affected by:
• Certain medical procedures.
• Certain medications.
• An enlarged prostate.
• A prostate infection.
Because many factors can affect PSA levels, your doctor is the best person to interpret your PSA test results. Only a biopsy can diagnose prostate cancer for sure.
Tips to Avoid Prostate Trouble
Prostate trouble can be distressing (having to get up three or four times a night to urinate, suffering from unwanted leakage at work, and so on), as can the medical examinations and treatments. To avoid these problems, not to mention prostate cancer, try the following:
1) Exercise Regularly. Exercise helps boost the immune system and reduce stress. But make your exercise gentle. Do not take up cycling or horse riding, as these activities can damage the prostate. Yoga is particularly good. If you attend a class, ask your teacher if there are any exercises she would recommend, especially those that target the pelvic area.
2) Reduce the amount of eggs you consume. Researchers at Harvard University conducted a study into 1,000 men in the early stages of prostate cancer. They found that those who ate an egg a day doubled the risk of their cancer metastasizing. The culprit is thought to be a compound known as choline. According to Dr. Michael Greger, an American physician and author of How Not to Die, who quotes from the Harvard study in his book, choline may also increase your chances of developing prostate cancer in the first place.
3) Eat plenty of seeds. Sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, and above all, flaxseeds are all good for the prostate. They are packed with essential fats, but more importantly, they contain zinc, which is vital for a healthy prostate. Flaxseeds are also packed with lignans, proven to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells in petri dishes and possibly in human bodies as well.
4) Eat lots of tomatoes. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a substance known to prevent prostate cancer. But to enjoy maximum benefit, you need to cook them, as the lycopene is released when tomatoes are heated. Since garlic and olive oil are also good for the prostate, try frying tomatoes in a small amount of good-quality olive oil along with chopped garlic. If you prefer not to fry them, you can grill or even bake them.
5) Take a zinc supplement. Zinc supplements have been shown to slow benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), a condition which involves the enlargement of the prostate. Zinc interferes with the conversion of testosterone into DHT, a hormonal trigger for prostate enlargement. And zinc deficiency is common among those diagnosed with prostate problems. However, make sure you buy a good quality brand.
6) Take a turmeric supplement. Turmeric, hailed by some as nature’s wonder drug, may also have benefits for the prostate. Curcumin, found in turmeric, is thought to inhibit the compounds responsible for prostate enlargement. Those who take turmeric supplements also reduce their risk of incontinence and urinary infection. When the prostate goes wrong, it tends to become swollen and inflamed; turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory.
7) Get regularly screened. Get a PSA test. If your PSA levels are elevated, this may mean your prostate is becoming enlarged; it may even indicate the early stages of cancer.
Difficulties with the prostate are so common that most men will experience them at some point, even if it is merely the annoyance of having to urinate several times a night. Unfortunately, modern medicine is still far too reactive. In other words, the medical establishment waits for you to get sick, then treats you (usually ineffectively, as many physicians will admit). The key is to not get sick in the first place. And that is especially true of the prostate.