Wouldn’t it be wonderful if prostate cancer could be prevented? Unfortunately, we’re not there yet—but we do have an understanding of what measures can be taken to help reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer.
Precancerous lesions are commonly seen on prostate biopsy many years before the onset of prostate cancer. We also know that there’s an increased prevalence of prostate cancer with aging. These facts suggest that the process of developing prostate cancer takes place over a long period of time—often more than a decade—from the initial prostate cell mutation to the time when prostate cancer manifests with either a PSA elevation, an acceleration in PSA, or an abnormal digital rectal examination. This means that there’s an opportunity for intervention before prostate cancer is established.
Here are six ways to reduce your risk of prostate cancer (and reduce risk of progression for men on active surveillance):
- Maintain a healthy weight, since obesity has been correlated with an increased prostate cancer incidence.
- “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The smart advice from Michael Pollan. A healthy diet consists of abundant fruits and vegetables (full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber) and real food, as opposed to processed and refined foods. Eat plenty of red vegetables and fruits including tomato products (rich in lycopene). Legumes (beans, nuts, peas, lentils, etc.) have an anti-inflammatory effect. Consume animal fats and dairy in moderation. Eat fatty fish containing omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, sardines, trout and mackerel.
- Avoid tobacco and excessive alcohol intake.
- Staying active and exercising on a regular basis can reduce your risk for prostate cancer. If you do develop prostate cancer, you will be in tip-top physical shape and will heal that much better from any intervention necessary to treat the prostate cancer.
- Get checked out! Be proactive by seeing your doctor annually for a digital rectal exam of the prostate and a PSA blood test. Abnormal findings on these screening tests are what prompt prostate biopsies, the definitive means of diagnosing prostate cancer. The most common scenario that leads to a diagnosis of prostate cancer is a PSA acceleration, an elevation above the expected incremental annual PSA rise based upon the aging process.
It’s important to mention that an isolated PSA (out of context) is not particularly helpful. What is meaningful is comparing PSA on a year-to-year basis and observing for any acceleration above and beyond the expected annual incremental change associated with aging and benign prostate growth. Many labs use a PSA of 4.0 as a cutoff for abnormal, so it is possible that you can be falsely lulled into the impression that your PSA is normal. For example, if your PSA is 1.0 and a year later it is 3.0, it is still considered a “normal” PSA even though it has tripled (highly suspicious for a problem) and mandates further investigation.
A healthy lifestyle, including a wholesome and nutritious diet, maintaining proper weight, exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol can lessen one’s risk of all chronic diseases, including prostate cancer. Be proactive by getting a 15-second digital exam of the prostate and PSA blood test annually. Prevention and early detection are key to maintaining both quantity and quality of life.