The word “cancer”, though common, remains scary and the same applies to prostate cancer as the very thought of it could spark many emotions in an average man.
How much is really known about this disease? How do I know if I am at risk? What can I do to prevent it? I will answer these and many more questions that you might have about the disease in this article.
What exactly is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer, which is also referred to as prostatic carcinoma, is simply defined as cancer of the prostate, marked by an uncontrolled malignant growth of cells in the prostate.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland encircling the neck of the urinary bladder and urethra. It produces seminal fluid which combines with the sperm to form the semen, helping in nourishment and transportation of the sperm.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in males, particularly in people of African descent.
What causes this cancer?
Just like every other cancer, it is still quite difficult to pinpoint specific causes of prostate cancer.
However, research has shown that every males has a one in six chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. The chances of having prostate cancer increase from about 20% in males in their 50’s to approximately 70% in males between the ages of 70 and 80 years.
Aside from age, other factors that predispose males to prostate cancer include environment and diet as well as a strong family history. For family history, the lifetime risk has been estimated to range from 12% in a male from 60 years and above with an affected father, to 35-45% in a male with 3 or more affected male relatives.
How worse can prostate cancer get?
Most cancers have the ability to spread beyond the site from which they originated and prostate cancer is not an exception as it can spread locally and can also metastasize.
Local spread has to do with the involvement of surrounding structures such as the seminal vesicle and even the urinary bladder, causing obstruction to these structures.
Metastasis can involve lymph nodes, bones and so on. This affects these structures, producing symptoms that contribute to the mortality rate of the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Although in some cases, prostate cancer (including those that has spread locally) may not show any symptoms and is only discovered on routine examination, others manifest symptoms.
The challenge is that there is no way to tell who will show symptoms and who will not.
Some of the symptoms suggestive of this disease include many urinary symptoms such as urinary retention, urge to urinate, pain while urinating, difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, excessive urination at night, etc.
Other symptoms are blood in urine, blood in semen, bone pain, reduced semen production, pain in the testicles, erectile dysfunction and so on.
How do I know if I am at risk of prostate cancer?
Some people are more at risk of this disease than others. Some of the defining factors are:
- Being 50 years of age or old
- Being a male of African descent
- Having male relatives diagnosed with this disease
- Lower level of physical activity
How do I prevent prostate cancer?
Since prostate cancer does not have a particular cause, its prevention is very similar to most other types of cancers. Some things to keep in mind are:
- Smoking is a risk factor for cancers generally and so it is advisable to quit smoking if you still smoke.
- A healthy dietary habit is essential in the prevention of most diseases and prostate cancer is not an exception. Incorporate red foods like tomatoes and watermelon into your diet. Do not underestimate the role of fruits and vegetables. Foods like soybeans, plant-based fat instead of animal-based ones (e.g. olive oil instead of butter, nuts or seeds instead of cheese, etc.), tea and coffee, etc. also help. Avoid overconsumption of red meat, animal fats and dairy fats.
- You can almost never go wrong with exercising. This would help you in maintaining a healthy body weight. This plays a role in reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
- Speak to your doctor if you notice any of the symptoms described above. Early detection could help reduce the rate of morbidity and mortality just like in any other disease.
Doctors advise patients to have prostate examination and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening done routinely. This helps with early detection.
It is however important to note that an enlarged prostate on examination or a PSA level above the normal range does not automatically mean that you have prostate cancer. This is because other prostate diseases such as prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) also manifest in similar ways. That is why it is important to discuss with your doctor.
Ideally, you should take the PSA test every two to three years. However, most males do the test along with their annual medical check-up. You could adopt the same routine if you wish. You may also want to have a yearly screening if you belong to one of the risk groups mentioned above.
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About the author: Ashade Itunu is a doctor-in-training in Nigeria. She is deeply passionate about sexual and reproductive health rights and advocacy as a vital component in achieving holistic health.