September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month which makes it a great time to dive deeper into the discussion about prostate cancer with men and with the women who love them. When it comes to this disease, I think the public knows more about treatment options than it might about the factors that actually put a man at greater risk of developing it. But once you know what places him at greater risk for developing this disease, the more aware you can be of how the man in your life compares and hopefully, the more watchful and diligent you become over potential signs and symptoms. Because the data are clear: the earlier a prostate cancer is detected, the more options there are for curative treatment and survival.
While a general understanding of prostate cancer risk factors is an important individual health metric overall, I have decided to approach them in a bit of a different way. Instead of listing them in order of greatest risk first, I am ordering them according to an individual’s ability to actually manage that risk himself. While there’s plenty a man or his loved ones cannot due to minimize prostate cancer risk (age, race and genetics, for example), there is also plenty he CAN do. So we’ll start there.
Smoking – Though not yet identified to be a risk factor for low-risk prostate cancer, smoking has been extensively studied and is believed to place a man at a significantly increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer. If the man in your life still smokes, encourage him to talk to his doctor about quitting for good. There are a number of programs available today that can help.
Diet – The traditional American or “Western Diet” is also associated with a higher risk for aggressive prostate cancer. This is largely due to a lack of vegetable-intake, especially those among the broccoli variety (called cruciferous vegetables). If your guy’s diet is lacking in these essential nutrients, help him balance his plate with at least one serving of vegetables at every meal.
Body Mass Index – Of course this aggressive prostate cancer risk factor can have many contributors rolled into it – a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and poor diet choices all play a part. But men who are considered clinically obese are at greater risk for developing the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
Location – This one may be a bit tougher to manage, but it’s controllable nonetheless. Studies show that men who live in the United States have an average 17 percent risk of developing prostate cancer than their peers in China, for example, where a man’s risk is only 2 percent. Interestingly enough, when a man moves from a lower risk country to the United States, his prostate cancer risk increases. This points to an even greater cause for alarm about the diet, lack of exercise and BMI concerns mentioned above.
Uncontrollable but still important to consider:
Age – The older a man is, the more likely it is he will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. The statistics range from 1 in 10,000 men diagnosed under the age of 40 to 1 in 14 men diagnosed who are between the ages of 60 to 69.
Genetics – Family history plays an important role in the risk associated with developing prostate cancer. Men who have a father or brother diagnosed with the disease are twice as likely to develop it themselves. The risk is even greater if that family member’s diagnosis came before the age of 55. If the important man in your life doesn’t know his family’s prostate cancer history, encourage him to find out.
Race – Compared to Caucasian men, African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer and are more than twice as likely to die from it. On the other hand, Asian men who live in Asia possess the lowest risk for developing the disease.
When it comes to prostate and any type of life-threatening disease, knowledge is power. I hope you’ll be able to use this to start some important prostate health conversations with the men in your life.