April 12, 2021
The Importance of Prostate Health Maintenance – Pandemic Edition
Men should pay attention to prostate health before it becomes a problem.
One of the most challenging aspects for some of my patients receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis is the deep look in the rearview mirror at what they could have been done to prevent it. This response isn’t unusual. It’s human nature. Often, however, there wasn’t one singular “change” that was certain to make the difference. The genes we are born with, heredity, and other environmental factors beyond our control all play a critical role in developing a variety of cancer types. So, while there are often circumstances beyond a man’s control in prostate cancer development, there are also some proven strategies to help reduce his risk.
Truthfully, many people are already aware of most cancer risk reduction strategies. That is likely because these strategies follow the overall health recommendations that decades’ worth of scientific and health research has proven to work. But on occasion and especially during the pandemic, I like to repeat them in my writings about specific health topics. It’s one thing to know that doing “x,y, or z” is good for your overall health. It’s another thing to know that doing those same things can help you reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. Perhaps it is a more targeted connection between the excellent health strategy and cancer risk reduction that creates the mental “click.” I’m all for whatever works. So, let us explore together.
Diet – In general, one should think of approaching a healthy diet from the perspective of what they put on every plate of food they eat. The plate should be mostly filled with vegetables (the more colorful, the better) and fruit, followed by a whole-grain carbohydrate, and finally a lean protein. Though it sounds simple, this sample plate is hardly the one most Americans are consuming their meals each day. And as we continue to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many of us find ourselves relying far too heavily on fast food for our daily meals.
Research has consistently proven that diets high in processed foods and saturated fats can increase cancer risk. The reasons for this involve how our bodies process and use the foods we consume. These poor-quality, quasi-foods can set off an inflammatory response in the body, making it a welcome environment for cancer. Specific to prostate health, however, studies have found that salmon, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, nuts, citrus fruits, onions, and garlic all contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant properties that can promote prostate health across the lifespan.
Exercise – Simply put, men who are more regularly and actively engaged in exercise have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those who aren’t. In some studies on the subject, the specific risk reduction is significant – even up to 30 percent. The effects of exercise on cancer risk is a long-researched topic and can be distilled into some fundamental reasons that support its effectiveness as a cancer mitigation strategy. Exercise helps modulate hormones, including testosterone in men. Testosterone management is crucial because it helps keep the prostate functioning efficiently.
Additionally, exercise helps reduce the incidence of obesity in men, which is another factor that can increase prostate cancer risk. Obesity is characterized by inflammation in the body and can be a significant cause of oxidative stress, which is also known to encourage cancer growth. So, whether it’s moderate or vigorous physical activity, every man should be adding a consistent exercise plan to his weekly routine. Jogging, cycling, swimming, and even golfing (as long as you’re walking the course and carrying your clubs) are excellent forms of exercise to try out, no matter your fitness level. While Rome wasn’t built in a day, we all can start somewhere and slowly build upon our health goals.
Annual Physical – It’s a good thing that being a urologist is my life’s calling because if I had a nickel for every man who came to me without having had a physical in YEARS, I wouldn’t need to work. Especially during the pandemic, men feel they have an even greater excuse not to schedule their annual physical. However, during these challenging times, it is even more important to schedule that physical because many men may not be exercising nearly enough and have developed unhealthy eating habits while working from home.
I can’t stress this enough – it’s true of prostate and every other cancer out there – early detection is critical. And it doesn’t only mean the difference between simple treatments and more complex. It can come down to life and death. Some prostate cancers are slow-growing, and others are aggressive. But you won’t know what YOU are working with unless you visit a physician who can review your health history to know if and when there’s reason to take a closer look. Especially if you’re over the age of 50 (45 if you’re at risk for developing prostate cancer due to family history), make your annual physical and prostate screening a personal health imperative. No excuses!
Though you may have already heard that diet, exercise, and routine medical care are essential for your overall health, I hope this article illuminates their specific effects on prostate cancer risk. Doing these things matters. And though it may be challenging to prioritize a healthier lifestyle, like anything in life, it can become a healthy habit in no-time. Not only will your body be better able to fight off cancer-causing agents, but if cancer does strike, it will be ready to fight it. Good health is a formidable weapon against any disease, so let’s stop making excuses and get to work.