Prostate Cancer

What is the prostate?

The prostate is an exocrine gland that makes up part of the male reproductive system. It is situated directly below the bladder, but in front of the rectum with the urethra running through the prostate. By exocrine gland, I mean it is a gland whose secretions ultimately end up outside of the body (sweat glands are exocrine glands). The prostate produces the protective fluid in which a male’s semen travels and when a male climaxes, contractions force the prostate to push that fluid into the urethra to eventually leave the body.

At only the size of a walnut, the prostate causes a lot of problems if left unchecked. It is estimated that 80% of men who live to age 80 will develop prostate cancer at some point during their life. There has even been a study conducted which claims many men who die simply of “old age” actually have prostate cancer, but because of the slow-growing nature of the disease, did not know it at the time of death. At this frequency, all men should be not only aware of their prostate and any bodily changes, but be receiving annual check ups from a doctor.

Potential Risk Factors:

Black American men are 1.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than their white peers, and a recent study points to socio-economic factors as a possible explanation for the racial disparity. It is not entirely clear what causes prostate cancer, but as men grow older they are more likely to develop cancer causing agents—the diets we participate in are major factors in the speed at which these agents grow. Since diet is largely determined by economic status and access to healthy food sources in any given neighborhood, black men are more likely to develop prostate cancer and at a younger age. They are recommended to begin cancer screening at the age of 40 whereas white men are recommended to begin at age 50.

Beyond the foods we eat, prostate cancer can largely be predicted by genetics. If someone in your family has had prostate cancer, then you are that much more likely to develop it and should be extra-cautious. Also, a sedentary lifestyle can be a major factor in the development of cancer forming cells. We know that diet and exercise are a good way to reduce the risk of most cancers, but even so, prostate cancer still develops in otherwise healthy men. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer risk could be increased when cells begin to divide into new cells more rapidly. The more quickly prostate cells divide, the more chances there are for DNA mutations to occur since every time a cell is divided it must copy the existing DNA and the process isn’t always perfect. Research is becoming more sophisticated on the causes of sped-up cell division and one answer may be high levels of androgens (testosterone) or inflammation of the prostate leading to increased cell production. A study conducted by the University of Michigan has pointed toward a link between gonorrhea and prostate cancer later on. This is similar to how researchers believe the inflammation caused by HPV can lead to cervical cancer in women. As it is hard to predict the rate at which our cells are multiplying, it is beneficial to keep a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, and of course, regular check-ups with your physician.