Some people might be reluctant to talk about prostate cancer because it involves a personal, intimate part of a man’s anatomy. But that doesn’t mean that prostate cancer won’t affect you or a loved one. Did you know that 1 out of every 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes?3 After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, with nearly 300,000 new cases diagnosed every year.3 Prostate cancer isn’t just an “old guys’” disease, either. While it’s more common in men over 65, prostate cancer can develop in men of any age.1,3 So while it may be uncomfortable for some to talk about prostate cancer, it’s important to stay informed about what it is, who’s most at risk and ways to help protect yourself.

What is prostate cancer?

Let’s start with the prostate gland itself. The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system, located in the groin right below the bladder and in front of the rectum.1 It surrounds the tube, called the urethra, that empties urine from the bladder.1 The main purpose of the prostate gland is to produce fluid to transport sperm.1,3 The prostate gland grows during adolescence (with the help of testosterone) and often enlarges with age. As the prostate gland grows, it can become large enough to slow down or even block the flow of urine through the urethra.1

Prostate cancer is a cancer that starts growing in the prostate gland.1,3 It starts when the cells in the prostate gland begin to grow out of control.1,3 Prostate cancer is typically a slow-growing form of cancer.1,3 A man can have prostate cancer growing for a long time, even years, before symptoms show.1 Prostate cancer can grow slowly, moderately or quickly and can spread into the lymph nodes or throughout the body, including to the bones.1

Who is at risk for prostate cancer?

All men with a prostate gland may potentially develop prostate cancer. However, there are some known risk factors that link some men with a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. These risk factors include:1,2,3

  1. Age. Cancer risk increases with age. The chance of prostate cancer rises after age 50. Most cases are diagnosed in men over age 65.3
  2. Ethnicity. African American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men of other races (Asian American, Hispanic, Latinx and non-Hispanic White men). These cases usually develop at a younger age and are twice as likely to be fatal.1,3
  3. Family history. Men with a father, brother or son who have had prostate cancer are more likely to develop it than men who do not have a family history of it.1,3
  4. Lifestyle. Some studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight or obese may be linked with a higher risk of prostate cancer.3

Just because you have some or all of these risk factors does not mean you will get prostate cancer.1 They simply mean your risk is higher than average, and you should make sure to share this information with your doctor.1

What symptoms of prostate cancer should I look for?

Cancerous and precancerous cells can grow quietly in a man’s prostate gland without causing problems or symptoms. But there are symptoms of prostate irregularities that can be a sign of prostate cancer or other changes in a man’s health. Symptoms to look for include:1,3

  • Trouble passing urine (difficulty starting or emptying the bladder completely)
  • Frequent urge to pass urine, especially at night
  • Weak or interrupted stream of urine
  • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Nagging pain in the back, hips or pelvis

Some of these symptoms can also occur in the prostate with normal aging, which makes prostate cancer tricky to spot. For example, these symptoms could also point to an enlarged prostate or to prostatitis, which is when a bacterial infection causes inflammation of the prostate gland.1 Any symptom that is not normal for you should be shared with your doctor so the cause can be found and treated.1,3

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What can I do to lower my risk of prostate cancer?

The good news is that the things you can do to lower your risk of prostate cancer are also good practices for your overall health. A great start is to:3

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active and get regular exercise
  • Stop smoking and use of tobacco products

For prostate cancer specifically, here are three actions that doctors recommend to help lower your risk of developing prostate cancer:

  1. Screen for prostate cancer.1,3 Screenings are to check for cancer before you have symptoms. It may find cancer early when it’s easier to treat and has better treatment options. Screening tests and physical exams help detect prostate abnormalities, such as unusual growth and cancer.
  2. Eat a healthy diet.1,3 You can limit processed and fatty foods. Choose a variety of lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and colorful fruits and vegetables instead.
  3. Talk with your doctor.1,3 Raise any concerns you have with your doctor, especially if you notice any symptoms. Some ideas for questions you might ask are:
    • What are my risk factors for prostate cancer?
    • What can I do to help lower my risk?
    • When, how and how often should I be screened for prostate cancer?

Being proactive with your health now can lower your prostate cancer risk and improve how you feel in general—for now and for the long run.

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Published October 17, 2023


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