Like any cancer, prostate cancer is complicated. Scientists are still unraveling the mystery of why some men get it and some men don’t. Still, research in recent years has suggested some things that can help prevent this common cancer. Equally important, research has demonstrated that some things once thought to help prevent prostate cancer actually make no difference.
We know that a man’s risk of prostate cancer is determined, in part, by things he can’t change: age, race and family history. Prostate cancer is most common in older men, in men with a family history of prostate cancer, and in black men. But cancer risk is also clearly connected to things you can change, which is what I’ll focus on here. The steps I outline below may help reduce your risk of prostate cancer, and they may reduce your risk of other cancers and heart disease, too!
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. A diet high in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of various kinds of cancer. Foods high in folate, a B vitamin found in spinach, asparagus and some beans, may be helpful. (Note, however, that taking supplements of a related compound – folic acid – have actually been shown to increase risk of prostate cancer.)
- Choose healthy foods and eat in moderation. If you read my recent blog about dietary fat, you know I don’t believe in fad diets. The main thing is to avoid a lot of highly processed, high-carb, high-sugar food. Skip the junk food, soft drinks and candy. Go for fresh, natural, whole grain products. Some foods that seem particularly helpful in preventing prostate cancer are:
- Cold-water fish like salmon and herring
- Soy products and other beans
- Green tea
- Foods high in vitamin D such as cheese and egg yolks (talk to your doctor to see if a vitamin D supplement is recommended)
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Generally, this means no more than 2 drinks a day for men. Studies show that regular heavy drinking increases the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
- Exercise. Do some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more a day.
You may have heard news reports about certain medications that may reduce prostate cancer risk. Medicines such as some anti-cholesterol drugs, or drugs like Finasteride (that lower dihydro-testosterone levels) may, in fact, prove beneficial.
Now, here are some things that have NOT been shown to reduce prostate cancer risk and should be avoided because they may produce undesirable side effects or actually increase your risk:
- Selenium supplements
- Vitamin E supplements
- Shark cartilage
- Multivitamin supplements
- Lycopene supplements
One final suggestion: get yearly checkups. An annual prostate checkup can't reduce your risk of cancer, as perhaps some of the tips I mention above can. But if prostate cancer does develop, a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test may discover the problem early, when treatment can be most effective.