June is Men’s Health Month, a time for men to focus on their health and make positive changes to their lifestyle to reduce their risk of disease. One of those diseases? Prostate cancer, the most common cancer affecting men in the United States.
I recently spoke with IBX Registered Nurse Health Coach Martin Daynorowicz who helps members with prostate cancer prepare for prostate surgery as well recover from it. He also shares risk factors for prostate cancer, including tips for how men can lower their overall risk.
The overarching message Martin shares is hopeful, “If prostate cancer is detected early — when it’s only present in the prostate gland — it’s highly treatable.”
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
When it comes to prostate cancer, Martin says there are several factors that impact your risk. “There are some risk factors, like diet, that you can control. There are other genetic factors, like family history, that you cannot control. That said, risk factors don’t necessarily mean you will get prostate cancer.”
According to the American Cancer Society, “Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others who get cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.” That’s why it’s important for all men to be aware of this disease, regardless of risk factors.
- Age: Martin points to age as the primary risk factor for prostate cancer. “The older a man is, the more likely he is to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.” In fact, prostate cancer is more common after age 50. And the majority of prostate cancer cases are in men 65 and older.
- Race/Ethnicity: Like many other types of cancer, there are major racial/ethnic disparities in the rates of prostate cancer. Black and African-American men are more than 75 percent more likely to get prostate cancer compared to white men. And Black men are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and at a more advanced stage. Scientists are still trying to understand the reasons for the racial/ethnic differences in diagnoses.
- Family history: According to Martin, like many cancers, family history does factor in. “Men who have a blood relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer have an increased risk of the disease.” There also seems to be a connection with other types of cancer, e.g., if other members of your family have been diagnosed with breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer, you may be at an increased risk of prostate cancer. That said, most prostate cancers occur in men without a family history of it.
- Gene changes: Studies show a link between BRCA gene defects and prostate cancer, so men with a family history of BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene defects (linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers) are considered to be at an increased risk for prostate cancer as well. Despite these statistics, Martin emphasizes that “genetics is NOT a death sentence.”
In addition to the above known risk factors, there are other risk factors that may play a part in prostate cancer risk, but the link isn’t as strong.
Reduce Your Risk of Prostate Cancer
If you have a risk factor for prostate cancer, it may seem like you are fated to develop the disease, but there are simple ways to reduce your risk of prostate (and other) cancer, like quitting smoking, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, and talking to your doctor about getting screened.
Diet and exercise
When Martin talks to members about preventive care, he stresses that diet may play a role in prostate cancer. “In talking with those who were diagnosed with prostate cancer, oftentimes I find that they rarely touched a vegetable in their life.” As he explains it, “I call prostate cancer the ‘meat and potatoes’ disease.”
He recommends a high-fiber diet rich in green vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. He also recommends limiting red and processed meats as well as dairy products, which are high in saturated fat. He points to the connection between large dairy consumption and an increased risk for prostate cancer.
In addition to a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising at least three days a week may help reduce your risk for prostate cancer as well as improve your overall health.
And while a link between diet and prostate cancer hasn’t been definitively proven, the good news is the hallmarks of a healthy diet (high fiber, variety of fruits and vegetables, low in saturated fat) help reduce your risk for many kinds of cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc. So, improving your overall diet is a win-win situation.
Screening and Diagnosis
There are two main ways doctors screen for and diagnose prostate cancer: the PSA blood test and a prostate biopsy.
- Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test: For this screening test, a blood sample is taken from the arm and measured for PSA levels. PSA is made by the prostate gland. While it’s normal for a small amount of PSA to be present in the blood, higher levels of PSA in the bloodstream may indicate infection, inflammation, or prostate cancer.
- Prostate biopsy: If a PSA test shows elevated levels, a doctor may refer you to a urologist for a biopsy, specifically a core needle biopsy, which is the main method for diagnosing prostate cancer. During a prostate biopsy, tissue is collected from the prostate gland and examined under a microscope to determine if cancerous cells are present.
Prostate Cancer Wellness and Support
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and have had prostate surgery, there are resources available to help in your recovery.
This comprehensive Prostate Cancer Guide helps patients navigate their diagnosis. In addition, Martin recommends patients strengthen the pelvic floor muscles post-surgery with male Kegel exercises.
“When I talk to patients recovering from prostate surgery, I recommend they take it slow and follow this day-by-day guide to restarting post-surgery activities. As always, patients should talk to their doctor about what’s right for them.”
If you have any further questions about prostate cancer or prostate surgery, you can speak to a Registered Nurse Health Coach 24/7 by calling 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583).
About Martin Daynorowicz
Martin has been a registered nurse for 20 years and is also a certified Case Manager. He worked in Medical-Surgical primarily orthopedics, neurology, oncology, post-trauma recovery, and in hospice care prior to joining the Independence team. Always with an interest in nutrition and integrative holistic approaches to health, he includes this knowledge in health coach education to Independence members. Martin believes that the more you apply knowledge in health self-management, the better your overall health outcomes will be. He also enjoys writing, history, and art.