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Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer can sometimes be asymptomatic.

Early detection is helping more men survive prostate cancer. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Early detection is helping more men survive prostate cancer.

Prostate Cancer

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located in the male body between the bladder and the rectum. The likelihood that a man will develop prostate cancer is influenced by several risk factors, some of which can be avoided and some of which like genetics cannot. Age is one of the greatest risk factors, and more than half of all prostate cancer diagnoses are in men aged 65 years older. Though 1 in 6 men will battle prostate cancer in their lifetime, few who are diagnosed actually die from it, making early detection critical in the treatment of this disease.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is asymptomatic in many men. Others experience a range of symptoms, including the following:

  • Inability to urinate or control the stop and start of the flow
  • Frequent urges to urinate, particularly at night
  • Weak flow of urine
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Pain in the upper thighs, lower back and hips
  • Difficulty achieving an erection

Though these problems are not usually indicative of prostate cancer, men should speak with their general practitioner or a urologist as soon as possible so that these issues can be diagnosed and treated with optimum results.

Causes and Risk Factors

Many causes, or risk factors, for prostate cancer are unavoidable. For example, genetics plays a significant role in determining who is at the greatest risk for developing prostate cancer. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, a man with one relative who has battled prostate cancer is twice as likely to be diagnosed. Having two or more relatives with a history of prostate cancer makes a man almost four times more likely to develop the disease.

What men can protect themselves from are the social and environmental risk factors that play a role in the disease's development, especially diet and lifestyle. Smoking, some sexually transmitted diseases, a lack of exercise and obesity may pose an increased risk for prostate cancer, though more research is needed to confirm this. A February 2007 study cited by the National Cancer Institute showed that while obese men are no more likely than men of normal weight to develop prostate cancer, they are more likely to die from it. Some research indicates that levels of prostate-specific antigen may be lower in the test results of overweight men even though they may have the disease, leading to deferred diagnosis and treatment.

It should be noted that many men who get prostate cancer have no other risk factors besides aging. Patients who feel they may be at an increased risk for prostate cancer should speak with a physician about possible preventative efforts and a screening, which generally includes a blood test and a digital rectal exam.

Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Each man should consult with a team of specialists, including a urologist, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist, to determine the specific treatment that best suits his particular case. Treatment may vary depending on how advanced the cancer is, the man's age, the grade and stage of the cancer and the man's overall health.

Possible treatment may involve local therapy to target the cancer in specific parts of the body. This includes surgical removal of the prostate and radiation therapy. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body may be treated systemically with hormones.

Side effects are common, since treatment often destroys healthy cells along with the cancerous ones. The severity of side effects generally depends on the nature and scope of the treatment. Some men find complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), like acupuncture, massage, meditation or herbal products, helps them feel better during treatment. Patients should discuss these options with their doctor to make sure the CAM will not interfere with the way their other treatments are working.

How to Prevent Prostate Cancer

Preliminary research indicates that diet modification may play a significant role in the reduction of prostate cancer development, progression and recurrence. Scientists have found good evidence that a diet rich in foods containing anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and low in animal fat are effective in fighting other chronic conditions, but more conclusive evidence is needed.

Chemoprevention involves the use of both synthetic and natural drugs or vitamins to reduce a man's risk factors for prostate cancer. According to Life Extension Magazine, selenium, vitamins E, lycopene and isoflavones have proven beneficial at reducing or suppressing prostate cancer, but more research is needed to prove this conclusively.

Hormone therapy may also be effective at preventing prostate cancer as studies have shown a correlation between testosterone levels and prostate cancer risk. Drug studies are in progress to determine whether medications like finastride that lower testosterone levels may be used as a preventative.

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