Prostate cancer is the type of cancer found most often among men in the United States, and more than 192,000 cases are diagnosed each year. It’s second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer deaths among men in this country.
Chances are that you know someone who has prostate cancer or has been treated for it. One out of every seven American men will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.
The survival rate is increasing, and awareness, screening and improved therapies are some of the reasons. If found early, prostate cancer has a good chance for successful treatment. In fact, prostate cancer sometimes does not pose a significant threat to a man’s life and can be observed carefully instead of treated immediately.
The prostate is a walnut-size gland in the male reproductive system. Just below the bladder and in front of the rectum, it surrounds part of the urethra, a tube that empties urine from the bladder. The prostate helps produce semen and nourish sperm.
The prostate begins to develop while a baby is in his mother’s womb. Fueled by androgens (male hormones), it continues to grow until adulthood.
Sometimes, the part of the prostate around the urethra may keep growing, causing benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). While this condition may interfere with passing urine and needs to be treated, it is not prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer Types
Almost all prostate cancers begin in the gland cells of the prostate and are known as adenocarcinomas.
Pre-cancerous changes of the prostate: By age 50, about half of all men have small changes in the size and shape of the cells in the prostate. This is called prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN).
Some research has indicated these cellular changes may eventually develop into prostate cancer. But this is controversial, and preventive treatment is not recommended.
If PIN is present, the best strategy is to be certain a thorough biopsy procedure shows no invasive cancer. If PIN is the only finding, then careful follow-up screening with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal examination (DRE) is recommended.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
Anything that increases your chance of getting prostate cancer is a risk factor. These include:
- Age: This is the most important risk factor. Most men who develop prostate cancer are older than 50. About two of every three prostate cancers are diagnosed in men older than 65.
- Family history: Risk is higher when other members of your family (especially father, brother, son) have or had prostate cancer, especially if they were young when they developed it.
- Race: African-American men have nearly double the risk of prostate cancer as white men. It is found less often in Asian American, Hispanic and American Indian men.
- Diet: A high-fat diet, particularly a diet high in animal fats, may increase risk; diets high in fruits and vegetables may decrease risk.
- Nationality: Prostate cancer is more prevalent in North America and northwestern Europe than other parts of the world.
- Some research suggests that inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) may play a role in prostate cancer. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are being investigated as possible risk factors as well.
Prostate Cancer Prevention
Certain actions may help lower your risk of prostate cancer:
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and eat less red meat. Decrease fat intake.
- Tell your doctor about supplements you take. Some of these may decrease the PSA level. A recent large study found that selenium and vitamin E, once thought to decrease risk of prostate cancer, have no effect.
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain your ideal weight
Other ways to avoid prostate cancer are being investigated. These include:
- Lycopenes: These substances found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon may help prevent damage to cells.
- Proscar® (finasteride) or Avodart® (dutesteride): If you are at high risk for prostate cancer, talk to your urologist or other provider who is familiar with studies about these drugs.
Research shows that many cancers can be prevented.
Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.