November (or Movember) is often the time where you see men shave their facial hair at the beginning of the month and let it all grow back in unique ways all in the name of prostate cancer awareness. Really a great cause since prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer in Canadian men. Startlingly, as per the new 2013 cancer statistics, 1 in 7 Canadian men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime! Wow! Thus, the goal of this article is to provide more education about prostate cancer and discuss what you can do to reduce your risk.
So where is the prostate? What does it do? The prostate is a walnut shaped gland found just below the bladder and just anterior to the rectum. It actually wraps around the urethra (the tube that carries urine and semen through the penis). The main function of the prostate is to make part of the seminal fluid that mixes with sperm to form semen.
What are the signs and symptoms that are often associated with prostate cancer? Well since the prostate wraps around the urethra (which connects to the bladder), enlargement of the prostate will cause a number of bladder related signs and symptoms. These include: increase need (frequency) to urinate (especially at night), intense need (urgency) to urinate, difficulty starting or stopping flow of urine, inability to urinate, weak or decreased urine stream, interrupted urine stream, sense of incompletely emptying bladder, burning or pain during urination, and also blood in urine or semen and painful ejaculation. Now if you have these symptoms (or know someone that does) it does not immediately mean that you have prostate cancer. Many of these signs/symptoms could be due to other prostate related issues like prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate), among others.
Risk factors include: family history, inherited gene mutations, diets high in fat, red meat, processed meat, and dairy, prostatitis, high testosterone, exposure to pesticides and other toxicities (cadmium exposure and rubber manufacturing). Also men of African ancestry have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer – they have a 60% higher rate than Caucasian men. While men of Asian ancestry have a lower rate of prostate cancer.
Early detection of prostate cancer in very important for men with a family history of prostate cancer and for those over the age of 50. This can be accomplished through yearly routine examination via a digital rectal exam (DRE) and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. The DRE is exactly as it sounds, it is a manual test to feel the size and texture of the prostate. The PSA test (which must be done prior to DRE) is a blood test that detects the levels of PSA produced by the prostate which naturally increases slowly with aging but will increase more quickly in the case of prostate cancer. It is important to note that testing for PSA is controversial as it can often provide false negatives and even false positives for prostate cancer. Thus discuss with your doctor to find out if testing your PSA is appropriate for you.
So what can you do to reduce your risk? Decrease toxic exposure such as pesticides (including choosing organic food), cigarette smoke (high levels of cadmium), among others. Modify your diet to reduce the amount of saturated fat that you eat, avoid eating processed meat and red meat (if you do eat meat, make sure it’s organic), and also reduce/eliminate your intake of dairy (specifically cow dairy). You can also increase the amount of vegetables that you eat, specifically those from the Brassica family such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage which contain a compound known as indole 3-carbinol which will decrease your PSA. Also consider increasing your intake of zinc by eating more pumpkin seeds (high source of zinc) which will help reduce the size of your prostate by inhibiting 5-alpha reductase (involved in testosterone metabolism).