About prostate cancer

What should people know about prostate cancer?

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system, located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate produces fluid that protects and nourishes sperm cells in semen.

Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in New York. Each year in New York State, about 14,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and almost 1,700 men die of the disease. It is estimated that one in seven men will develop prostate cancer during his life.

Who gets prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer occurs mainly in older men, with about two-thirds of cases diagnosed in men age 65 and older. Prostate cancer occurs more often in Black men than in White men. In New York State, Black men are one and a half times more likely to get prostate cancer and almost twice as likely to die of the disease compared to White men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian men than in White men.

What factors increase risk for developing prostate cancer?

At this time, the causes of prostate cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Age. As men get older, their risk of prostate cancer increases.
  • Race. The risk of developing prostate cancer is highest among Black men and lowest among Asian men. Scientists do not know the reason for this.
  • Family history. Men whose close relatives (father, brother, son) have had prostate cancer (especially at an early age) are more likely to get prostate cancer.

What other risk factors for prostate cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are studying a number of factors that may increase a man's risk of prostate cancer. Many studies have shown that men with certain changes to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are linked to breast and ovarian cancers in women, are at increased risk for prostate cancer. Men with higher levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in their blood also appear to be at higher risk.

Many studies have focused on the role of diet in prostate cancer. Some studies have suggested that men who eat more red meat, animal fat, and/or dairy products may be at higher risk, but other studies have not confirmed this. Other studies have suggested that diets high in certain types of vegetables, such as tomatoes or soy, or in fish or certain vitamins or minerals may protect against prostate cancer, but the evidence is still uncertain.

Other factors under study as possible risk factors include prostatitis (an inflammation of the prostate gland), sexually transmitted infections, levels of male hormones, and obesity. Some early studies suggested that vasectomy (surgery to make men infertile), exposure to the metal cadmium, or being a farmer may increase a man's risk for developing prostate cancer, but these have not been confirmed.

Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of prostate cancer.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting prostate cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer:

  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Talk with your health care provider about the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening and whether it is right for you.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing cancer:

  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

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