No one knows the exact causes of prostate cancer. Why one man gets it and another one does not, can’t be explained. One thing we do know is that prostate cancer is not contagious – you can’t catch it from someone else.

The American Cancer Society estimates that over 230,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2004. In fact, one in six American men will be told he has prostate cancer during his lifetime.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among African American men, accounting for 40 percent of all cancers contracted by black males. Among African American men, it appears at a younger age, in a more advanced stage of the disease and, some studies show, in a more aggressive variation. African Americans are more than twice as likely to die from the disease than are men in general.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder, in front of the rectum. It produces seminal fluid, which protects and nourishes sperm. Researchers have identified the following risk factors for prostate cancer:

  • Age: after age 50 (age 40 – 45 in African Americans), chances of contracting the disease increase rapidly
  • Race: occurs more often in African American men
  • Family History: having a father or a brother with prostate cancer increases the risk
  • Diet: men who eat a lot of red meat (particularly, meat cooked at higher temperatures), animal fats, high fat dairy products and few fruits and vegetables are at higher risk
  • Weight: studies show maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk
  • Inactivity: men with sedentary (not physically demanding) jobs are at higher risk, while regular physical activity reduces the risk

As with all cancers, the chances of surviving prostate cancer depend on finding it in its early stages. Unfortunately, there are few symptoms until the very late stages of the disease. A blood test to check the level of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), which rises in early stages, and a rectal examination by a health professional can detect the cancer in earlier stages when the recovery prognosis is better.

In general, a yearly screening after age 50 is standard, but for men at high risk – such as African Americans and men who have a father, brother or son with prostate cancer – the American Cancer Society recommends screening beginning at age 45.

Prostate cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation and/or hormone therapy with success, but preventing the disease is always better. While risk factors like race, family history or age cannot be changed, the American Cancer Society suggests the following ways to reduce the risk:

  • Limit intake of red meat, especially high fat or processed meats
  • Choose foods from plant sources – eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Choose low- or no-fat dairy products
  • Eat more lycopenes – antioxidants that prevent damage to DNA – found in tomatoes, tomato products (including ketchup), watermelon and pink grapefruit
  • Include more breads, cereals, grains, rice, pasta and beans in your diet
  • Become active with regular exercise at least four or five times per week
  • Limit or give up bad habits including smoking and alcohol or drug abuse

For more information contact the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute.

[Steve Clark]