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Everything you should know about prostate cancer: Warning signs, risk factors, and more

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Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer diagnosed in men and almost as common as breast cancer, affecting around 1 in 8 men. In 2023, it was estimated that more than 280,000 Americans would be diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

Breast cancer is highlighted often. You’ve likely seen pink ribbon magnets on cars year-round or runs for breast cancer around your area. While prostate cancer has its month of awareness in September, it’s not as commonly talked about. This cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men, and it’s important for men to understand the risks and signs. 

What is prostate cancer? 

The prostate is a gland located at the base of the bladder. It is about the size of a walnut and is part of the male reproductive system. It produces the fluid that makes up semen and is made up of both muscle and glandular tissue.

Prostate cancer happens when abnormal cells form and grow in this area. Some growths may be malignant, while others are benign. If you notice a new growth, seeing a medical professional to get a proper diagnosis is essential.

Who is at risk of prostate cancer?

Anyone who was born male is at risk of developing prostate cancer. Many factors increase the risk of prostate cancer, including ethnicity, age, weight, and family history. Men’s risk of prostate cancer increases as the years pass and is most commonly seen after 50 years old. 

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, in the United States, African American men have the highest death rate for prostate cancer compared to other racial or ethnic groups. They are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men. This reality is due to socioeconomic factors, but genetics also play a role.

If you have a family history of prostate cancer, then you might be at a higher risk of getting this cancer as well. If the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are found in your family, or breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, or ovarian cancer, you may be at a higher risk as well.

It is also possible that those who are significantly overweight or obese have a higher risk of prostate cancer than those who are a healthy weight, although studies haven’t proved this to be completely true. According to the CDC, obesity is firmly linked to a higher risk of getting 13 types of cancer.  

What are the warning signs of prostate cancer?

Men tend to be less likely to visit a doctor than women, a dangerous fact when considering prostate cancer is on the rise. Understanding the warning signs of prostate cancer is vital. Knowing what to watch for and seeking medical care when something seems off can help you receive a diagnosis faster than you might otherwise. 

Unlike many other cancers, there are often no early symptoms of prostate cancer. Once this cancer has advanced, it may make men urinate more or cause a weaker flow. As the Mayo Clinic explains, other signs of advanced prostate cancer include: 

Is it possible to prevent prostate cancer? 

Getting screened for cancer regularly is the most effective way to prevent advanced prostate cancer. When this cancer is caught early, it is treatable. Screening involves a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test helps find anything that may be off within the prostate.

While the link between obesity and prostate cancer hasn’t been completely proven yet, maintaining a healthy weight can make a big difference. Exercise multiple times a week and follow a relatively clean diet. You don’t need to be perfect, and no foods are “bad,” but put some thought into your diet.

Following a healthy diet can reduce your risk of prostate cancer. Hopkins Medicine suggests reducing fat intake, avoiding charred meat, and drinking green tea. Increasing your Vitamin D can also be beneficial. 

Fill your diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, as they provide your body with nutrients and essential vitamins. Studies have found that the antioxidant lycopene can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. Pink and red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruits, and guavas, tend to contain this compound. 

What does prostate cancer treatment look like? 

When this cancer is still confined to the prostate, there are plenty of effective treatment options. The recommendation might be surgery or radiation. Other methods might be needed if the cancer has spread or is aggressive. These options include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiopharmaceutical therapy. There are more methods to treat prostate cancer in the works, and there may be even more effective treatments down the road. 

How can you show support during Prostate Awareness Month and all year long? 

One of the best things you can do is spread prostate cancer awareness. You can make a post online showing you care and attach helpful resources. The Prostate Cancer Foundation will even send you 50 free copies of their guide, Things Every Man Should Know About Prostate Cancer, to distribute in person. You can do this at work, on your local college campus, or anywhere else you think fits.

If you love to exercise, sign up for a local 5k or 10k. Ask friends, family, or people in your area to pledge a certain amount of money per mile you run and donate the earnings to help fund lifesaving research. You can even register your fundraiser through the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and they’ll give you a shirt to wear on your big running day. 

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