TMH Living Well: Preventing prostate cancer

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Likely, you know a man who has had prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men. It’s the second leading cause of death from cancers in the United States. In fact, half of men in their 80s have prostate cancer. While this may sound daunting, the good news is that prostate cancer usually is slow growing and if caught early on, can be treated and stopped.

Signs of prostate cancer

The best way to catch prostate cancer early is to know the signs. Luckily, signs are fairly obvious. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs include:

• Trouble urinating

• Decreased force in the stream of urine

• Blood in your urine or semen

• Pain in your lower back, hips or thighs

• Discomfort in the pelvic area

• Erectile dysfunction

• Elevated prostate-specific antigen test

Some men avoid going to the doctor for annual checkups. Yet Dr. Jon Hamilton, D.O., a family physician with The Memorial Hospital’s Medical Clinic, thinks prostate screenings work, especially for men ages 50 to 69. Recently, the formal recommendation for prostate screenings has changed. The U.S. Preventative Task Force on Health now says annual prostate screenings are not advised across the board, but rather are an item to be discussed and decided between a patient and doctor on an individual basis.

During a prostate screening, the doctor will test your PSA level, which measures a protein produced by the prostate gland. The higher the number, the greater chance you might have prostate cancer. Then, a physical exam is completed, including a digital rectal exam to check for nodules or a hardening of the prostate.

As men age, their prostate may become enlarged, yet having an enlarged prostate does not increase the risk of cancer. “We don’t know what causes prostates to swell or grow—sometimes infection and sometimes simple aging. With age, prostate cells tend to get larger,” Hamilton said.

During the March MANness event at The Memorial Hospital’s Medical Clinic, men can receive five important health screenings all for the price of $100, and a PSA is included for men 50 and older.

“Take advantage of the chance to have a PSA test this month. If you do have a high PSA, sit down and visit with your physician so you can make an informed decision on what to do next. Remember, an increased PSA does not always mean cancer,” Hamilton advised.

What you can do to protect against prostate cancer

Some risk factors for prostate cancer can’t be prevented, such as genetics and race.

“While one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer at some time in their lives, that number increases to one in three for African Americans. Also, if you have a first-degree relative who had prostate cancer — a dad or brother — your risk is doubled or tripled,” Hamilton said.

Yet there are things you can do to prevent prostate cancer and cancer in general. Did you know that exercising three hours per week has been shown to greatly reduce your cancer risk overall? Eating well has similar results.

“Live a healthy lifestyle: eat well, watch your weight, as risk increases with obesity, and exercise frequently. By adopting a healthy lifestyle, you’ll decrease your risk for prostate cancer and cover other bases, as well,” Hamilton advised.

Some medical professionals advise patients to consider drinking green tea and taking the extract of the fruit saw palmetto as both have shown in some studies to support prostate health. Omega 3 fatty acids have shown similar results, despite a recent (yet limited) study that claimed the opposite.

Studies on saw palmetto are inconclusive, but if you choose to take it know that quality matters. If you consider taking saw palmetto, make sure you get a product that is labeled “high pressure-extracted oils” or “super critical oils.” Saw palmetto is thought to work by lowering DHT, an androgen hormone like testosterone. Since prostate cancer cells feed on hormones, reducing DHT is helpful.

“Early detection is the key with any cancer. Prostate cancer is regarded as one of the most curable cancers, if caught early,” said Dr. Jon Hamilton, D.O, a family physician with The Memorial Hospital’s Medical Clinic.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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