What Every Man Should Know About Prostate Cancer

Kristine Burke, MD
April 4, 2016

Prostate cancer is one of the topics I devote a lot of time to when I see my patients, and it's something you should always be thinking about, too.

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the U.S. Approximately 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be approximately 220,800 new cases this year alone.

Prostate cancer is rare in younger men — the average age it shows up is 66.

Even though it's common, take heed: prostate cancer is treatable and curable. In fact, about 2.9 million men living today are survivors.

Low testosterone = the cause of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer happens when cells in the prostate become abnormal and start to grow and divide. These abnormal cells then form a tumor that grows and infiltrates the nearby tissue.

Although it's not clear exactly what causes prostate cancer, we do know it likely has something to do with hormones.

In fact, a study in the Korean Journal of Urology found that men with low levels of testosterone had a higher risk for prostate cancer than those in the higher testosterone group.

But testosterone, your primary sex hormone, isn't the only one to blame.

In fact, estrogen, which we think about as a female hormone only, is actually a growth-stimulating hormone in the prostate gland. And just like women, men can have what we call "estrogen dominance," which is seen in men over 50.

As men age, the level of estradiol, a type of estrogen, gradually rises while the levels of progesterone and testosterone decline. This decline is greater than the rise of estradiol.

So without enough progesterone, testosterone gets converted to dihydrotestosterone or DHT. What's more, estradiol prevents the hydroxylation of DHT. These two factors combined mean that there's a ton of DHT circulating, which in turn, stimulates the receptors in the prostate which may lead to prostate cancer.

Risk factors

There are several factors that can increase your chances of prostate cancer:

  • Age. After 50 years, the chances of prostate cancer increase. The American Cancer Society says that approximately 6 in 10 cases are in men over 65.
  • Family history. If your father or brother was diagnosed, your chances of being diagnosed are more than doubled.
  • Race. African American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry are more likely than other races to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • Obesity. Some studies show that men who are obese may have an increased risk for having an aggressive form of prostate cancer and also dying from it.
  • Diet. A diet rich in red meat, high fat, and processed foods has been linked with an increase in prostate cancer.
  • Toxic chemicals. Occupational toxins found in the workplace, particularly those firefighters are exposed to, as well as pesticides in food may increase the risk. Organic produce and meats can reduce exposure of the glands to these chemicals. The breast and prostate appear to be very sensitive to these chemicals.
  • High levels of PSA. If your doctor told you your PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels were high, it may indicate prostate cancer.
  • Symptoms

    When prostate cancer develops early on, there may not be any signs. As it becomes more advanced, however, some symptoms that can show up include:

    • Painful or burning urination
    • Weak flow of urine
    • Frequent urination
    • Blood in the semen
    • Pelvic area discomfort
    • Bone pain
    • Painful ejaculation
    • Erectile dysfunction

    When to see your physician

    Early screening and evaluating your risk for prostate cancer is always a good idea, so always keep your doctor's appointments. If you have any of these symptoms, it's important to see your doctor who will

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