This One’s for Men, Unfortunately

We don’t need to live our lives afraid of disease and illness, but the better we arm ourselves with accurate and reliable information and take preventative steps, the more we’re likely to live to a ripe old age. That’s why if you’re a man reading this – or a woman who has a man or men in her life it’s important that you pay attention to this cautionary primer on prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers afflicting American men.

Other than skin cancer, which is the most common, more men – as many as one in nine – will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimate that approximately 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, resulting in close to 30,000 deaths. About six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

Though prostate cancer can be a serious disease, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. About one man in 41 will die of prostate cancer, but more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Prostate cancer is malignancy that occurs in the prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Usually prostate cancer grows slowly and is initially confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. However, while some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or even no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.

When detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of successful treatment.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages. When it’s more advanced, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer. These include age, race, family history and obesity. If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher. In fact, having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. Often, these men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

While there is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer, there are some things we can do that might lower our risk for this disease. Typically, they involve controlling body weight, remaining physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet. Studies have found that men who are active and exercise regularly have a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer. Vigorous activity may have a greater effect, especially on the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

Several studies also have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables (including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, soy, beans, and other legumes) or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Avoid high-fat foods and instead focus on choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your overall health.

When to See Your Doctor

Men with a higher risk of prostate cancer may consider medications or other treatments to reduce their risk. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor. Prostate screening tests include two traditional procedures:

Digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to examine your prostate, which is adjacent to the rectum. If your doctor finds any abnormalities in the texture, shape or size of the gland, you may need further tests.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A blood sample is drawn from a vein in your arm and analyzed for PSA, a substance that’s naturally produced by your prostate gland. It’s normal for a small amount of PSA to be in your bloodstream. However, if a higher than normal level is found, it may indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement or cancer.

For men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment. Instead, doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance such as regular follow-up exams, blood tests and, if necessary, biopsies. If tests show the cancer is progressing, patients may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Do yourself or the men in your life a favor by reminding them of the importance of obtaining regular prostate cancer screenings for early detection and treatment as required, and for eating healthy and exercising. With those simple steps, men are likely to beat the odds on this common but dangerous disease.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!