How does cancer affect the prostate gland?

The prostate is a small gland that sits under the bladder in men. The main function of the prostate is to make some of the fluid that protects and nourishes sperm. One in six men will develop cancer in their prostate during their life. Nearly 90% of new prostate cancers, and almost all deaths resulting from prostate cancer, are in men over the age of 60.

The prostate is normally a rubbery, uniform structure.  If a cancer forms, it often disrupts the architecture of the prostate. This can sometimes be felt as a lump or hardened area by placing a gloved finger in the rectum and pressing forward.

There are many things men can do today to lower their risk of prostate cancer. Diets rich in animal fats and red meat are associated with prostate cancer, possibly due to toxic chemicals generated when meat is cooked at high temperatures. By contrast, diets high in fruit and vegetables protect against prostate cancer.

Actions and options to prevent Prostate Cancer

  • Screen for cancer with a digital rectal exam and a PSA blood test every year from the age of 50 if you are at risk. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits for you
  • Eat a diet naturally high in antioxidants
  • Lycopenes (high in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelons)
  • Isoflavones (in soy products)
  • Sulforaphane and lutein and zeaxanthin (in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage)
  • Selenium (in brazil nuts)
  • Moderate your intake of animal fat (especially fried, roasted, broiled, grilled or barbecued meat). Diets rich in animal fats and red meat are associated with prostate cancer, possibly due to toxic chemicals generated when meat is cooked at high temperatures
  • Rotate your animal products on a 4-day basis – one skin-free poultry day, one trim red meat day, one fish day and one vegetable day. Then repeat
  • Grill rather than fry your meat to drain off the excess fat
  • Boil chicken before browning and drain away the fat with the water
  • Keep up your Vitamin D levels (sun exposure, oily fish, fortified foods or supplements)
  • Choose from salmon, sardines, anchovies and tuna and have at least twice a week
  • Take a walk in the early morning or late afternoon sun and expose your limbs to the sunshine

Should I test for prostate cancer (prostate screening)

Prostate cancer cells often produce increased amounts of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) that can also be detected via a simple blood test. It is controversial whether regularly performing either of these screening tests is able to prevent disability or death.

This is because even though doctors can detect a few cases that kill, screening may result in some innocuous cancers being unnecessarily treated with major surgery. Men who have prostate cancer prevention high on their priority list should have both a digital rectal exam and a PSA blood test every year from the age of 50. This is a discussion worth having with your doctor.

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Dr Merlin Thomas

Professor Merlin Thomas is Professor of Medicine at Melbourne’s Monash University, based in the Department of Diabetes. He is both a physician and a scientist. Merlin has a broader interest in all aspects of preventive medicine and ageing. He has published over 270 articles in many of the worlds’ leading medical journals
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