Prostate cancer is a cancer that affects the prostate gland. Your prostate gland is a walnut shaped gland that sits within the reproductive system, just below the bladder.
Prostate cancer is a topic that's near and dear to my heart both professionally but also personally. Professionally because, the majority of my career has been focused on the diagnosis and management of the disease and personally because my father has prostate cancer and I know that because of that family history, I myself am at high risk to get the disease down the road.
Let’s talk about prostate cancer, including how common it is, and what causes prostate cancer.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is a cancer that affects the prostate gland.
One of the things that makes prostate cancer particularly challenging for men is that many men have no idea what their prostate is, and that is something that needs to be tackled.
Your prostate gland is a walnut shaped little gland that sits within your reproductive system, just below the bladder.
Here are some things you may not have known about prostate cancer until today:
Prostate cancer can be a lethal disease due to the fact that the signs and symptoms of the disease generally don’t become apparent until the condition has reached stage 3 or 4 of the disease.
Prostate cancer is an incredibly prevalent disease. 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men aside from skin cancer.
The average age to be diagnosed with prostate cancer is 66 years of age.
The only way to definitively know if you have prostate cancer is to get tested. Testing for prostate cancer may include a PSA blood test and a digital rectal exam (DRE).
Even though prostate cancer is a very common disease, men are slow to talk about it…
Today, if you were to compare men's comfort levels with talking about prostate cancer versus a woman's comfort level in talking about breast cancer, men are always going to be lagging behind.
We're very good at ignoring many subjects in our lives including and not limited to our own health. I'm certainly guilty as charged!
A lot of men are aware that part of what goes into screening for prostate cancer is going to require that a rectal exam be performed.
There is an obvious inherent bias about anyone wanting to walk into the office and have that performed electively, although I will say that once they've had it performed they realize that it's not nearly as difficult as their mind had imagined.
The prostate gland sits just on top of the rectal wall, which is why when we do a rectal exam in the clinic.
We're able to feel the outside texture of the prostate gland on exam and the exam itself takes no more than 30 seconds.
What causes prostate cancer?
The most common causes of prostate cancer include:
- Family history
- Smoking tobacco products
- Poor diet
- Alcohol consumption
There is no one singular cause of prostate cancer.
One of the questions that I'll see a lot in my clinical practice will be;
“What can I do to prevent prostate cancer?”
There are a number of factors that will certainly increase the likelihood of developing prostate cancer. There are some causes that we cannot control and some causes that are in our control.
Your family history is a cause of prostate cancer.
I often say to my patients that you can’t outrun your DNA. Your genetics are what they are and we absolutely know that having a first degree relative with a family history of prostate cancer puts you, the individual, at a significantly higher risk to get the disease compared to a person who has never had any signs of prostate cancer.
Your ethnicity is a cause of prostate cancer.
Men of African descent are more likely to get prostate cancer and more chilling is that, they are not only more likely to get prostate cancer but they're likely to get a more virulent form of prostate cancer, meaning that the prostate cancer man-for-man compared against other races will tend to be a bit more aggressive in African men.
Smoking tobacco products
Smoking tobacco products is a cause of prostate cancer.
There is a correlation between prostate cancer and tobacco use, just as there is a connection between lung cancer and tobacco use. Smoking tobacco products will never be good for you but the habit will always increase your risk of cancer. If you have a preexisting disposition for a certain condition, smoking tobacco products will make a difference in your risk. Quit smoking if you ever started and if you don’t smoke, never start.
Poor nutrition may play a role in your risk of prostate cancer.
Poor nutrition isn’t going to be a direct cause of prostate cancer but it doesn’t hurt to eat healthily. If you are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, always aim to get these vitamins and minerals from food sources as opposed to supplementing them.
This may seem like a general cause, and that is because it is. Poor nutrition plays a role in the development of a number of health conditions. It is always a good idea to aim to eat as healthily as you can.
Alcohol consumption may play a role in your risk of prostate cancer.
Similarly to poor nutrition, alcohol consumption isn’t a direct cause, and it depends on the volume of alcohol consumed and how often this volume is consumed. Everything in moderation is generally the best guideline when it comes to your health, and that is no different for your risk of developing prostate cancer.
Family history will probably carry the day in terms of risk factors, but in terms of the other elements that may cause or play a role in causing prostate cancer I'm really going to tell my patients is to try to do everything they can to live as healthy of a life as they can based on all of those other factors, that might also be good for their heart or other aspects of their health.
The message is to aim to live as healthy a life as you can for overall health.
Written by Dr. Robert Mordkin | Edited by Hannah Kingston