September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

ProstateProstate cancer is the development of cancer cells in the prostate gland.  It is the most common cancer in men; some cancers grow very slowly while others spread quickly to other organs.

Prostate cancer can be detected early through screenings which are  typically offered by a physician during an annual physical and early detection is crucial to a positive outcome. Prostate cancer has no initial symptoms and so often goes unchecked.

Common risk factors for prostate cancer are as follows:

Age – Prostate cancer is very rare in men younger than 40, but the chance of having prostate cancer rises rapidly after the age of 50. About 6 in 10 cases of prostate cancer are found in men over the age of 65.

Race/ethnicity – Prostate cancer occurs more often in African American and Jamaican men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African American men are also more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage and are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as white men. This is believed to occur related to the frequency of doctor visits. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian American and Hispanic Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites although the reason is not clear.

Nationality – Prostate cancer is most common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia and on Caribbean islands. It is less common in Asia, some African nations, Central and South America. More intensive screening in some developed countries probably accounts for at least part of this difference but other factors such as lifestyle choices (diet etc.) are likely to be important as well. Men of Asian descent living in the U.S. have a lower risk of prostate cancer than white Americans, but their risk is higher than that of men of similar backgrounds living in Asia.

Family History – Prostate cancer seems to run in families which suggest that there may be an inherited or genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is higher for men who have a brother with the disease than for those with an affected father. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time the cancer was found.

Genes – Mutations in some genes may also increase prostate cancer risk in some men, but they account for a very small percentage. Some inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are the reason that breast and ovarian cancers are much more common in some families. Mutations in these same genes may also increase prostate cancer risk in some men but they as well account for a very small percentage of prostate cancer cases.

Diet – Men who eat a lot of red meat or high fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Doctors are not sure which of these factors is responsible for raising the risk.

Obesity – Most studies have not found that being obese is linked with a higher risk of getting prostate cancer overall. Some studies have found that obese men have a lower risk of getting a low grade form of the disease but a higher risk of getting more aggressive prostate cancer. The reasons for this are unclear.

It is important to have open dialog about prostate health with a physician. It is unwise to wait until the doctor “finds something” to introduce the topic. If a positive diagnosis of cancer is made then options for treatment is a separate and well thought out discussion.