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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Men fear prostate cancer more than almost any other diagnosis––and with good reason. It’s the most common cancer in men besides skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death.
The good news is if caught early, prostate cancer is very treatable. Early detection is possible through what’s called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, but you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to prevent getting prostate cancer in the first place.
While there are risk factors for prostate cancer you can’t control, some general health tips may reduce your chances of developing the disease.
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Risk factors for prostate cancer
Like many other diagnoses, prostate cancer has risk factors you can change and those you can’t. For example, smoking is a potential risk factor that you can change. But we have no control over things like age, family history, and race––the main risk factors for prostate cancer.
If you have a direct relative diagnosed with prostate cancer (like a father or brother), your chances of getting it are twice as high. Age increases the risk of many cancers, prostate cancer being just one. Stats show it’s rare before age 45 (less than 1%) and becomes more common as men get older; most cases of prostate cancer are seen in those 65 and older.
It’s not entirely clear why, but African American men have almost double the risk of prostate cancer and are more likely to die from the disease. It could be due to inherited genes, environmental factors, or a combination of both (Leslie, 2021).
Tips for preventing prostate cancer
You may not be able to change the main risk factors for prostate cancer, but there are lifestyle behaviors you can adopt that may decrease the risk.
1. Eat lots of fruits and veggies
Many nutrients and foods have been studied in their ability to lower prostate cancer risk. You already know that most fruits and vegetables contain nutrients and fiber, good for your overall health. However, some studies call out cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips as potential prostate cancer preventers.
While the data is inconclusive, following a heart-healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat is recommended. A good example of this is the Mediterranean diet (Perez-Cornago, 2017; Rawla, 2019 ).
2. Cut out carbs
Studies suggest that eating fewer carbohydrates affects insulin, which can influence cancer cell growth. The theory is that eating more carbs raises insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance. Some studies suggest higher amounts of insulin may be linked to higher-grade prostate cancers (Kaiser, 2019).
While more research is needed, adopting a more ketogenic diet (which could help with blood sugar control) could be a beneficial prevention tool for prostate cancer (Kaiser, 2019).
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3. Incorporate lots of healthy fats
If you grew up on a typical Western diet, you’re probably accustomed to lots of red meat and dairy. While these foods are full of protein and have other important nutrients, they are high in saturated fat––aka “bad” fat.
Research finds that excess fat increases stress in your body, damaging DNA and producing cancer cells. Too much rich fat also may increase hormone levels (like testosterone), affecting prostate cell growth (Rawla, 2019).
Try decreasing your saturated fat intake by swapping out butter for olive oil and processed sweets for fruit. Avocados, eggs, fish, and nuts are just a few examples of healthy fat sources.
4. Keep an eye on dairy consumption
Some studies have found dairy could increase the risk of prostate cancer, late-stage cancer, and death from the disease. Researchers propose that taking in too much calcium from dairy or supplements is the reason behind this, but the results are mixed and data so far is limited (Yang, 2015; Rawla, 2019).
5. Eat bright, red foods
Okay, this might seem the opposite of what we said earlier when talking about red meat. However, many pink and red foods are chockful of antioxidants––known cancer preventatives.
More accurately, you may want to consume ingredients with lycopene, which give fruits like tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, and guava their characteristic color. Like other antioxidants, lycopene protects cells from DNA damage that causes cancer (Imran, 2020).
6. Maintain a healthy weight
Research shows that people living with obesity are more likely to develop prostate cancer, in addition to other cancers like colon and breast cancers. This could be because obesity increases inflammation in the body, potentially contributing to cell damage and cancer progression.
The best way to lose weight or ward off extra pounds is through regular exercise and watching what you eat. Research is still ongoing regarding the relationship between obesity and prostate cancer (Fujita, 2019).
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7. Get physical
Exercise is a great way to stay healthy. It’s good for your heart and can help you maintain a healthy weight. Some data suggests that people who engage in physical activity regularly may have a lower risk of prostate cancer.
And you don’t have to go to the gym. Pick an activity that you enjoy––like walking, running, biking, or dancing––and incorporate it into your daily routine (Rawla, 2019).
8. Drink coffee and green tea
Research shows that drinking coffee may be beneficial in preventing prostate cancer. While data on this topic is limited, studies have found that heavy coffee drinkers are at a lower risk of advanced or fatal prostate cancer.
If you don’t like coffee, try tea. Green tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins and polyphenols that decrease inflammation and may protect against cancer cell formation. It’s always a good idea to check with a healthcare provider or assess your caffeine intake before increasing how much coffee or tea you consume (Rawla, 2019).
9. Quit smoking
You’ve heard it before, so it’s no surprise—smoking is bad for you. But it’s not just bad for your lungs. Cigarette smoke contains many toxic chemicals that can damage DNA and cause cancer cells to develop.
Studies also report an increased risk of prostate cancer in smokers compared to nonsmokers. Just another reason to kick the habit!
10. Ejaculate more often
Yes, you heard us right. A clinical trial observed that individuals who ejaculated more than 21 times per month had a reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to those who ejaculated 4-7 times per month.
This data suggests ejaculating more frequently (whether from sex or masturbation) may have a hand in preventing prostate cancer. Researchers theorize that with age, cancer-causing secretions buildup in the prostate gland. If you ejaculate more often, it clears out these secretions on a more regular basis. This keeps your prostate healthy and could prevent cancer cells from developing (Rider, 2016).
Can medication prevent prostate cancer?
Of course, the possibility of a magic prevention pill is an attractive idea. Specifically, scientists have studied finasteride (brand name Propecia; see Important Safety Information) and dutasteride—two drugs used to treat an enlarged prostate—to see if they may be helpful.
These drugs are known as 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (5-ARIs) and work by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT, another male sex hormone. DHT triggers prostate growth, and 5-ARIs are often prescribed to help it shrink over time. Because DHT may play a role in cancer development, 5-ARIs are also being studied as a potential prevention tool.
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However, there’s some controversy around using 5-ARIs to prevent prostate cancer. Several studies suggest that 5-ARIs may lower your risk, while others proposed the drugs may actually increase it (Hu, 2020).
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against using 5-ARIs to prevent prostate cancer. If you’re considering using these drugs, talk to a healthcare provider beforehand about the risks and benefits (FDA, 2018).
When to see a doctor
While prostate cancer is prevalent, most men diagnosed won’t die from it––thanks to the many treatments available.
If you’re concerned about prostate cancer, a healthcare professional can talk to you about any lifestyle changes to consider and organize a PSA test to screen for the disease. Prostate cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms, but see a provider if you experience pain with urination, trouble urinating, needing to pee more often, blood in your urine, or other concerning symptoms.
Although the primary risk factors for prostate cancer can’t be changed, there are lots of simple things you can do that may help prevent it. The best recommendations at this time are things like following a healthy diet and ejaculating regularly.
- Fujita, K., Hayashi, T., Matsushita, M., Uemura, M., & Nonomura, N. (2019). Obesity, inflammation, and prostate cancer. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(2), 201. doi:10.3390/jcm8020201. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30736371/
- Hu, X., Wang, Y. H., Yang, Z. Q., Shao, Y. X., Yang, W. X., & Li, X. (2020). Association of 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor and prostate cancer incidence and mortality: a meta-analysis. Translational Andrology and Urology, 9(6), 2519–2532. doi:10.21037/tau-20-843. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33457226/
- Imran, M., Ghorat, F., Ul-Haq, I., Ur-Rehman, H., Aslam, F., Heydari, M., et al. (2020). Lycopene as a natural antioxidant used to prevent human health disorders. Antioxidants, 9(8), 706. doi:10.3390/antiox9080706. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7464847/
- Leslie, S. W., Soon-Sutton, T. L., Sajjad, H., et al. (2021). Prostate cancer. [Updated 2021 Sep 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Nov. 12, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470550/.
- Kaiser, A., Haskins, C., Siddiqui, M. M., Hussain, A., & D’Adamo, C. (2019). The evolving role of diet in prostate cancer risk and progression. Current Opinion in Oncology, 31(3), 222–229. doi:10.1097/CCO.0000000000000519. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7379157/
- Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Appleby, P. N., Tsilidis, K. K., Tjønneland, A., Olsen, A., et al. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and prostate cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). International Journal of Cancer, 141(2), 287–297.doi:10.1002/ijc.30741. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5488166/
- Rawla P. (2019). Epidemiology of Prostate Cancer. World Journal of Oncology, 10(2), 63–89. doi:10.14740/wjon1191. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6497009/
- Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. European Urology, 70(6), 974–982. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040619/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2018). FDA Drug Safety Communication: 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (5-ARIs) may increase the risk of a more serious form of prostate cancer. Retrieved on Nov. 12, 2021 from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-drug-safety-communication-5-alpha-reductase-inhibitors-5-aris-may-increase-risk-more-serious.
- Yang, M., Kenfield, S. A., Van Blarigan, E. L., Wilson, K. M., Batista, J. L., Sesso, H. D., et al. (2015). Dairy intake after prostate cancer diagnosis in relation to disease-specific and total mortality. International Journal of Cancer, 137(10), 2462–2469. doi:10.1002/ijc.29608. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4754664/