Prostate Health: Lifestyle and Screening

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Prostate health is one of leading concerns in men’s health today. There has been a spike in research on men’s prostate health due to a spike in the occurance of prostate cancer, especially in the North American population. In the United States, prostate cancer strikes 1 in every 11 white men, and 1 in every 9 men of African American heritage.

Luckily, while rates of cancer diagnosis have spiked in the last twenty years, the death rate linked to prostate cancer has dropped: 80-90% of men can be cured of prostate cancer if it is caught early enough. Prevention, however, begins with lifestyle choices you make every day.

Lifestyle

There are some genetic indicators that your risk for prostate cancer may be higher, and there are also lifestyle choices that you can make to reduce your risk. Beyond your control are the genetic factors. Studies have shown that men of African American heritage have a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer than those of Asian or Caucasian heritage.

Age also plays a factor: men over 50 (or African American men over 45) should be screened for prostate health at their annual check ups. The final genetic factor is a family history. If your father, uncle or brother have had prostate cancer, then you are encouraged to tell your doctor so that he or she can decide when screening would be appropriate.

Another major factor in prostate health is your diet. There have been several studies that directly link certain deficiencies in a man’s diet with his likelihood of developing cancer. One of the biggest risks for North American men is a diet that is high in saturated fat. This increases your risk of developing prostate cancer (not to mention hypertension and heart attacks). In fact, one study showed that Asian men living in Asia have about a 2% risk of prostate cancer, while immigration to North America, and exposure to our fatty Western diet, causes the risk to jump to 10% in just one generation.

Increased intake of the mineral selenium, found in meat, fish, beans and grains, is linked to the prevention of prostate cancer, as are the increase of anti-oxydents (which help detoxify your system). Specifically, the anti-oxydent lycopene, found in cooked tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and guava, is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. As with any cancer, one of the most important dietary elements is fish.

Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids, or “good” fat) are one of the best natural combatants of many ailments, including heart disease, high cholesterol and prostate cancer. You should incorporate fish into your diet twice a week, and barring that, at least take a fish oil supplement from your local health store.

One final lifestyle choice that has been emerging in newer studies is a link to unprotected sex with numerous sexual partners and prostate cancer. One theory is that the recent spike in prostate cancer cases is linked to a sexually transmitted infection called the human papilloma virus (HPV).

This infection, already linked to cervical cancer in women, can be carried for years in the sexual organs without presenting any symptoms, so you must ask your doctor to screen you for it specifically. It is a curable infection, and ridding your body of it, according to recent hypotheses out of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, can stop a chain reaction of cellular mutations that could lead eventually to prostate cancer.

Screening

Your prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is located behind the public bone, under the bladder and behind the rectum. Its primary purpose is to serve as the lab where all of the fluids that emerge in your semen are mixed and then carried out. Your seminal vesicles carry sperm from your testicles into the prostate where it mixes with prostatic fluid and is carried via the urethra (running through the centre of the prostate) out of the body when you ejaculate.

Most ailments that affect the prostate, and these are not all cancerous, are felt most acutely in your urinary system. Because the prostate is an encapsulated gland, any infections that are occurring inside of the gland can be asymptomatic until the gland swells up and starts affect other systems, most notably your urination (due to the bladder location above the prostate gland, and the urethra running through it).

There are four types of prostatitis (a swelling of the prostate): acute bacterial, which is characterized by fever, lower back, and genital pain; chronic bacterial, which is characterized by the above symptoms as well as blood in the urine or semen, painful ejaculation and urinary tract infections; nonbacterial prostatitis, whose cause is unknown (but may be linked to chlamydia); and chronic prostatitis (also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome).

If you are having symptoms of an enlarged prostate, then the doctor will give you a digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to rule out cancer. In the digital rectal exam, the doctor will insert a lubricated finger in the anus and gently probe the prostate. He or she is looking for lumps, hardness or enlargement.

If your doctor is concerned he or she will order a PSA test and possibly an ultrasound. Increased levels of PSA, a protein normally only secreted into semen, can leak into the blood when cancer is present. If your PSA levels are high, your doctor will likely order a biopsy of the prostate to check for cancerous cells.

Prostate cancer is generally a very slow-growing cancer that you can have for years in the encapsulated gland of your prostate without it spreading to other organs in your body. This does not mean that it is to be taken lightly, but do not be surprised if your doctor does not initiate an aggressive treatment regimen if cancer is detected.

The first step if your cancer is slow growing is watchful waiting. Prostate cancer can be so slow-growing that it never spreads through the body. If the cancer is developing more quickly, then treatment options such as radiation and surgery are available, and largely very successful.

The best strategy for prostate health is a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and a good doctor. If you have persistent genital, abdominal or back pain, ask your doctor about your risks for developing prostate problems, and, if you are a candidate for lifestyle or genetic reasons, develop a screening plan with your doctor.

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