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Prostate Cancer: Steps to Lower Your Risk
In June, we typically think about the men we love in our lives, for Father’s Day. Husbands, brothers, fathers may all be significant people in your life. So think about the last time you asked each about his health. Is he eating a healthy diet? Is he exercising regularly? Has he talked with a doctor about recommended health screening? These types of questions are important to ask to help him stay healthy both for himself and his family.
One particular health screening that's been in the news a lot lately is prostate cancer screening. And what you've heard may be a bit confusing. But the simple and important take-home message is that the middle-aged men in our lives should have an in-depth talk with a doctor about prostate cancer screening to see if it's right for them.
The prostate is a reproductive organ in men. Older men, African American men, and men with a family history of prostate cancer are at higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer themselves. All men, especially those men at higher risk, should talk with a doctor about screening.
The American Cancer Society recommends that most men have this talk beginning at age 50. For African American men or men with a family history of prostate cancer, it should take place at age 45 or earlier.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men in the U.S., with roughly one in five men developing it. Often, it is a slow-growing cancer and many men with prostate cancer don't develop symptoms. It can, though, be aggressive and deadly in some. When found early, through screening, prostate cancer can be treated, and most men will not die from it. So this month, talk with the men in your life about screening.
Two common prostate cancer tests:
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test – Prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in a man’s blood. High levels of PSA may lead to additional tests to determine is prostate cancer is present. High levels may also suggest inflammation or infection in the prostate from a non-cancerous cause. So, an elevated PSA does not always mean cancer is present. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor, as well as follow-up after receiving results.
- Digital rectal exam – Your physician will administer a physical exam to feel how large the prostate may be, if any lumps exist, or if there anything is unusual.
For those at high risk, such as African American men or men with a family of prostate cancer, it’s important to remain vigilant in your discussions about your health with your doctor, including prostate cancer screening. An elevated PSA test does not diagnose prostate cancer; therefore, keeping your follow-up appointments is just as important.
Looking beyond screening, we know that a healthy lifestyle can lower the risk of prostate cancer. Some particular steps men can focus on to improve his prostate and overall heath include:
- Quitting smoking or never starting
- Staying at or getting to a healthy weight or at least keeping weight steady
- Eating tomato-based foods, such as tomato sauce, tomato soup or salsa
- Eating less red meat
For more information about prostate cancer, visit Siteman Cancer Center’s prostate cancer webpage, or call 1-800-600-3606 for a physician referral. Learn about your risk of prostate cancer with Your Disease Risk, a free online personal assessment tool that helps determine your risk of certain cancers and other diseases.
Written by Bettina Drake, PhD, MPH, a cancer researcher at Washington University School of Medicine and Siteman Cancer Center. Her research interests address reducing disparities in cancer by focusing on cancer prevention strategies through nutritional and community-based approaches. Dr. Drake also co-leads the Prostate Cancer Community Partnership, a community partnership of the Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities (PECaD), and is a founding member of the Prostate Cancer Coalition. Both community organizations seek to reduce prostate cancer disparities in the region and nation.
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