Actor Louis Gossett Jr. recently announced that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He went public, he said, "to set an example for the large number of African-American men who are victims of this disease because of the comparatively low emphasis in our community on preventive examinations and early treatment." • African-American men are statistically more likely to get prostate cancer than other ethnic groups. And it's a disease that is more common with age; Gossett is 74. • Obviously, you can't control your age or genetics. But there is still a lot you can do to improve your odds. This doesn't mean you should scrimp on regular screening, of course. Last year, an estimated 27,360 men died of the disease, making it the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men. Here are the questions I hear most often on stopping cancer before it starts:
What can I do to prevent cancer?
It has been estimated that 40 percent of all cancers could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. Smoking and obesity are the biggest culprits, shown in numerous studies. Here are some tips:
• Don't smoke.
• Maintain a healthy weight, and get at least a half-hour of exercise every day.
• Eat more fruits and vegetables, and choose whole grains over refined grains.
• Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men (one for women).
• Use sunscreen.
• See your doctor for regular checkups and screenings.
What about preventing prostate cancer specifically?
In addition to all the tips above, make sure you are following a heart-healthy diet. Keep red meat to a minimum and choose low-fat dairy products. Reduce saturated fats; increase fruits and vegetables. Statin drugs used to lower cholesterol may have a preventive benefit to those already taking them. This is being studied.
If you've already had prostate cancer, it is imperative to follow all these diet and lifestyle tips to help prevent a recurrence.
I'm always hearing about men getting prostate cancer. Is it more common in the United States than other places?
In Asia there is a lower incidence than in the U.S., but when Asians migrate here, their cancer rate goes up dramatically, presumably due to dietary and lifestyle factors.
What other dietary measures can I take?
Vitamin D looks promising for cancer prevention, but it is still being studied. I would advise increasing fish consumption, or taking omega-3 in supplement form.
What have studies shown about prevention?
Several major randomized studies have been done, involving more than 50,000 men. One looked at the possible role of selenium and vitamin E, but found no advantage to taking those supplements. Another found a significant reduction of incidence among higher-risk men who took the generic drug dutasteride (brand name, Avodart). Yet another found a similar reduction of prostate cancer in high-risk men who took the generic drug finasteride (Proscar). However, such drugs carry their own risks, so physicians must consider whether they are worthwhile for each patient.
What can I do if I have a family history of prostate cancer?
You should consider genetic testing not only if you have a first-degree male relative who had prostate cancer, but also if your mother had breast cancer. The presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations in men are associated with prostate cancer as well as male breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
What's a consumer-friendly book I can read to find out more?
I recommend Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice: A Step-by-step Guide to What Works and What's Worthless by Dr. Mark Moyad, a professor of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan. You can also see him lecture on YouTube.
Dr. Jerrold Sharkey is a prostate cancer educational consultant in Palm Harbor and was in full-time urological practice for 40 years. He can be reached at (727) 786-4531 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.