Understanding Prostate Health: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Prevention Tips

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According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most commonly diagnosed cancer in males other than skin cancer, is prostate cancer. It is estimated that in 2018, 164 690 new diagnoses of this disease and approximately 29 430 deaths resulting from it will transpire (1). Men have a one in nine chance of developing this cancer during their lifetime, with the highest onset being after the age of 65, when one in 6 will receive a positive diagnosis, likely by the time they are 70 (2).

What Exactly Is The Prostate?

  • It is a gland the shape of a walnut, found beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum.  It forms part of the male reproductive system.
  • This walnut-shaped gland produces sperm-protecting and nourishing fluid. The other components of semen are made up in the seminal vesicles, which sits behind this gland.
  • Doctor Examining Patient ProstateFunneling its way through the gland, is the urethra. This tube transports urine and semen through the penis and out the body.
  • Male hormones called androgens stimulate prostate growth and activity. Testosterone is the main androgen. With age, the gland also grows and enlarges, which may present medical issues of its own.
Take Home Note:
The prostate is a small gland that makes up part of a man’s reproductive system. It produces a fluid which protects sperm and is a vital part of men’s health.

BPH And Other Symptoms Of Poor Prostate Health

Many men have no symptoms, or only one or more of the health indicators below. The presence of any of these could point to deteriorating health of the gland and are health issues to be tackled on their own, not necessarily as part of cancer prevention.

  • Urinary problems – these symptoms are also often associated with enlargement of the gland which is non-cancerous. This is called benign prostatic hypertrophy (or BPH).

Indicators include a weak or interrupted urine stream, difficulty commencing with urination, dribbling at the end of urination, urinary pain or burning, an inability to completely empty the bladder and an increased urge to void the bladder, especially at night; or urinary tract infections, particularly as part of a repeated pattern (3).

  • Urinary blood and also blood in the semen.
  • Discomfort or pain during ejaculation.
  • Pelvic pain, as well as spinal and upper leg pain.

Benign prostatic hypertrophy is diagnosed by a process of elimination and other diagnostic tools including rectal exam, a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, urodynamic and pressure flow studies, a biopsy and ultrasound (4).

Patient Consulting Doctor of ProstateThe good news is that benign prostatic hypertrophy can be treated with medication and several minimally invasive procedures, such as various treatments involving a scope, or laser therapy. A robot-assisted prostatectomy is a last resort, and it is considered a safe operation. It also happens to be one course of option if cancer, as opposed to BPH, is confirmed (5).

Take Home Note:
One common condition that men suffer from as they get older is BPH (Benign prostatic hypertrophy), also known as an enlarged prostate. This condition can bring about many uncomfortable symptoms such as difficulty urinating or needing to frequently urinate. This condition is not connected to prostate cancer.

Related Conditions

It is also important to bear in mind that the urinary symptoms described above may be related to other medical concerns, including:

  • Inflammation of the gland (prostatitis)
  • Bladder or kidney stones
  • Tissue scarring in the bladder neck due to previous surgery
  • Urethral narrowing (urethral stricture)
  • Problems with nerve signals to the bladder
  • Cancer of the bladder

Men experiencing individual or bundled urinary problems should seek professional medical help to ascertain the root causes.

Take Home Note:
If you are experiencing any problems with urination, it is important to speak to your doctor. There are many health conditions that may be causing this problem.

Cancer-Specific Risk Factors

As with any disease, there are risk factors. However, no male is immune. It is also true that the presence of several risk factors do not make cancer an inevitability. These risk factors include:

  • Age. Men over 65 are the most prone, with men under 45 being the least vulnerable.
  • Patient Talking With DoctorProstate fluctuations. Men with certain cells, called high grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), are likely at greater risk.
  • Family history. A close or immediate male relative who has had prostate cancer increases the risk of diagnosis.
  • Race. This cancer is more common among African American men, for reasons that are still being studied.
  • Genome changes. Research suggests that the risk for this particular cancer may be linked to specific changes of particular chromosomes.
Take Home Note:
There are many risk factors for developing prostate cancer such as genetics, age and race.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia Risk Factors

BPH is not definitively understood, and consequently the following risk factors are neither definitive or exhaustive:

  • Age. The risk factor is the same as for cancer. In this case, it is linked to disease progression and severity.
  • Diabetes. Diabetic men are more likely to develop this disease, or worse, manifestations of it.
  • Obesity. This may be linked to the presence of possible, but lesser understood risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol.
  • Diet. High saturated fat, red meat and refined sugar consumption may make symptoms more acute (6).
Take Home Note:
The various risk factors for developing an enlarged prostate include age, weight, and overall health.

Tips For Lowering The Risk Of BHP And Cancer

The American Cancer Society recommends taking a pragmatic approach by submitting for testing and screening first and foremost, from the age of 50 onwards. Men with any of the risk factors of any of the two diseases, especially a family history, should seek medical advice and possible testing earlier, at approximately age 45 (7).

A Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test with or without a rectal exam is recommended.  How often you should subsequently submit for testing depends on your PSA level (8).

Man Stretching OutdoorsEating healthy, whole-grain, healthy fat and lean meat-based diets; lowering alcohol intake, quitting smoking and increased physical fitness – even if this comprises walking every day – are understood to help disease onset prevention. A recent study of 30 000 men, for example, found that men with more active lifestyles were less likely to develop BPH (9).

As for specific foods, isoflavones have been linked to a lowered risk of cancerous cells developing (10). Food rich in isoflavones include tofu, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa sprouts and peanuts. Green tea and green tea supplements have also been linked to lowered risks.

One of the most important dietary changes is eliminating processed foods, and opting for healthy sources of fats. These are some recommended swaps:

  • Olive oil or coconut oil instead of butter
  • Photo of Pumpkin SeedsNuts or seeds instead of cheese (but no more than a handful or 28g of unsalted nuts per day, as nuts are high in calories. Seeds such as pumpkin seeds are filling, and sesame seeds have powerful anti-inflammatory agents).
  • Fruit instead of cakes, refined white flour biscuits and candy
  • Raw produce and fresh vegetables instead of prepackaged and take-away foods.

Genetic and other scientific breakthroughs are being made everyday, so no disease is a death sentence. However, prevention remains better than cure, and identifying cancer and BPH early gives you a high chance of successful treatment and recovery.

Take Home Note:
Living the healthiest life you can and making sure to visit your doctor for regular checkups, particularly over the age of 50, is your best shot at keeping your prostate healthy.
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