Prostate cancer – what is it?

In men, the prostate is a small gland located underneath the bladder that is part of the reproductive system. Sometimes, prostate cancer develops as men age. Prostate cancer typically grows slowly over time. Rarely, the cancer cells may be more aggressive, grow rapidly, and spread to other areas of your body. The earlier your doctor finds and treats the tumour, the greater your chances are of finding a curative treatment.

What causes prostate cancer?

As with all types of cancer, the exact cause of prostate cancer is difficult to pinpoint. Numerous factors can be involved, including genetics and exposure to toxins in the environment, such as chemicals or radiation.

Ultimately, mutations in your DNA, or genetic material, lead to the growth of cancerous cells. These mutations result in the cells in your prostate to grow uncontrollably and abnormally. Tumours develop when abnormal or cancerous cells continue to grow and divide. In aggressive cases, prostate cancer can metastasise, which means the cancerous cells leave the original tumour site and spread to other areas of the body.

Prostate cancer risk factors:

There are a number of risk factors that may influence your chances of developing prostate cancer, including:

  • age
  • diet
  • family history
  • geographical location

Age

Age is one of the biggest risk factors for prostate cancer, and young men are rarely affected by it. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, only 1 in 10,000 American men under the age of 40 will develop prostate cancer. Among men between 40 and 59, the chance climbs to 1 in 38. Among men aged 60 to 69, the rate rises further to 1 in 14. Most cases are diagnosed in men aged 65 and older.

Diet

Although there is limited research, red meat and high-fat dairy products may also contribute to prostate cancer risk. Men who consume diets high in meat and high-fat dairy products also tend to consume fewer fruits and vegetables. It is still unclear whether the high levels of animal fat or the low levels of fruits and vegetables are more responsible for dietary risk factors.

The findings of a 2010 study on 101 cases of prostate cancer found a correlation between a diet high in meat and high-fat dairy products and prostate cancer, but emphasised the need for further research.

Study from 2017 examined the diet of 525 men with prostate cancer who were newly diagnosed and found an association between high-fat milk consumption and cancer progression. The findings of this study suggest that high-fat milk consumption may also contribute to the development of prostate cancer.

More research is needed into this topic.

Family history

Mutations that cause prostate cancer are sometimes inherited. People who have a family history of prostate cancer are at a higher risk of developing the disease themselves, since they may inherit damaged DNA.

There is evidence that approximately 5-10% of cases of prostate cancer are caused by inherited mutations, and that these mutations have been detected in several different genes.

Geographical location

The American Cancer Society states that prostate cancer is more prevalent in North America, the Caribbean, North-Western Europe, and Australia than in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America. Environment and culture can also play a role.

In the United States, men living north of 40 degrees latitude are at an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer than those living farther south. An explanation might be a reduction in the amount of sunlight that northern men receive, and therefore a decrease in vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that a deficiency of vitamin D may increase prostate cancer risk.

Which risk factors are associated with aggressive prostate cancer?

Prostate cancers with an aggressive nature may differ slightly from those with a slower growth rate. The development of more aggressive types of the condition has been linked to certain risk factors. For example, you may be at a greater risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer if you:

  • are obese
  • smoke
  • consume high levels of calcium
  • have a sedentary lifestyle

What isn’t a risk factor?

Things that were once considered risk factors for prostate cancer are now believed not to be related to the disease.

  • You don’t appear to have any impact on your risk of prostate cancer based on your sexual activity.
  • A vasectomy does not seem to increase your risk.
  • Neither is alcohol consumption associated with prostate cancer.

Outlook

Despite some aggressive cases of prostate cancer, most are not. The majority of men diagnosed with this disease can expect to live a long and healthy life. The earlier you are diagnosed, the better chance you have. Early diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer can improve your chances of finding a curative treatment. However, even those who are diagnosed in the late stages can benefit from treatment. Benefits of this treatment include reduced or eliminated symptoms, slowed cancer growth, and increased life span.