Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society (ACS) — and age plays a big role in those who have it, with more than 80 percent of diagnoses in people 65 and older.
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While you might not be able to change your age, there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of this cancer, says Christopher Weight, MD, a board-certified urologist, surgical oncologist and Center Director of Urologic Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic.
Taking steps to reduce your risk can help you avoid this disease, and it can also improve your overall quality of life and prostate health, Dr. Weight says.
Here are some possible ways to lower your odds of getting prostate cancer.
1. Eat a Plant-Based Diet
Turns out, the phrase "you are what you eat" might be true — adopting a healthy, balanced diet could be an important factor in keeping your prostate healthy and reducing your risk of prostate cancer, Dr. Weight says.
One way to do so is with a plant-based diet, which doesn't mean you never eat meat or animal products like dairy — it just means you focus on mainly eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and small amounts of meat, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
"We have emerging data that suggests that nutrition plays a significant role in prostate cancer development," Dr. Weight says.
The current Standard American Diet (SAD) is heavy in processed foods, processed meats, animal products, refined sugar and carbohydrates, and it has been linked to inflammation, according to the American Society for Nutrition.
And over time, that inflammation could lead to cancer, per the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
That's why the best foods for prostate health are not your typical SAD foods, Alicia A. Romano, RD, LDN, CNSC, registered dietitian at Tufts Medical Center and national media spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "The combination of high fiber, low fat, rich vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content of a plant-based diet collectively supports the body by providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that may play a role in reducing cancer risk."
A good cancer-prevention diet is very similar to a heart-healthy diet — eat different fruits and vegetables, whole grains, skinless poultry and fish, and nuts and legumes. Avoid or limit foods with saturated fat, trans fat and sodium as well as red meat and highly processed foods.
While diet's role in prostate health is still being studied, the food most consistently linked with prostate cancer is red meat (think: beef, pork and lamb), according to a July 2018 review in Cancer Therapy & Oncology. The American Cancer Society recommends choosing protein foods such as fish, poultry and beans more often than red meat.
Eating lots of dairy (including whole milk) might also raise prostate cancer risk, according to the ACS, both before diagnosis and in cancer recurrence. The research on dairy's role is mixed, but sticking to three or fewer servings a day seems to be a safe bet, according to Oncology Nutrition.
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2. Mind Your Gut
One possible reason diet may have an effect on prostate cancer prevention? The gut microbiome.
Your diet can have a lasting effect on your gut bacteria, which in turn can affect tumor formation. Indeed, researchers have found an increase in specific gut bacteria in prostate cancer patients, according to a February 2020 International Journal of Molecular Sciences article.
A diet high in fiber with four to five servings each of fruit and vegetables per day can help maintain a healthy microbiome, leading to overall wellness (including for the prostate) and cancer prevention, says Karen Sandell Sfanos, PhD, associate professor of pathology, oncology and urology and director of the Prostate Cancer Biorepository Network at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
You may also want to consider adding probiotic-rich foods to your diet, such as yogurt, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut.
3. Lose Weight (and Keep It Off)
Achieving a healthy body mass index (between 18.5 and 24.9) and maintaining that weight is an important step in preventing prostate cancer, Dr. Weight says.
Studies show a strong and clear link between obesity and aggressive prostate cancer, according to Cedars-Sinai.
Besides eating a healthy, balanced diet as outlined above, the best way to maintain your weight is through the next tip: exercise.
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4. Exercise Regularly
If you can, one of the best things you can do to prevent prostate cancer and maintain your prostate health is to be active and sit less.
A review of the literature on prostate cancer and exercise, published June 2017 in Sports Medicine, found a possible reduced risk of the disease in those who exercised. And there's a link between physical activity helping prevent disease recurrence and improving survival following prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment — but more research is needed to confirm this, the authors note.
In the meantime, one thing is clear: Regular exercise could be a "potentially useful measure in the prevention of prostate cancer," according to the study authors.
You can do a variety of activities to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week, as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The World Cancer Research Fund cites the following:
- Household chores
- Fast swimming
- Fast cycling
The best exercise is the one you can stick with. Choose a method of moving that you love and is fun, and you won’t dread working it into your routine.
5. Lower Your Stress
Stress reduction is always a good thing, Dr. Weight says. Stress can suppress the power of the immune response, and it has been linked to a higher risk of cancer.
You can get a two-for-one deal if you exercise. Working out "helps neutralize stress, and gives our immune systems the best chance to fight off new diseases," Dr. Weight explains.
Stretching, yoga, walking and running are all great stress-relieving workouts, but really, any exercise you enjoy can help.
If exercise is a tough ask for you, there are other ways to reduce stress that are less physical. One of those is mindfulness, and specifically, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which was designed to help people cope with chronic pain, according to a systematic review published in PLOS One in 2018.
The review found that MBSR helped reduce levels of burnout, emotional exhaustion, stress, depression and anxiety. MBSR can include:
- Performing a body scan, where you take a moment to concentrate on how your body feels.
- Doing a sitting meditation, where you focus on your breathing and other sensations without moving.
- Giving your full attention to mundane daily tasks we so often zone out while doing, like brushing your teeth or eating.
6. Discuss Screenings With Your Doctor
It's a good idea to talk to your doctor about your specific prostate cancer risks and ask about screening guidelines based on your age and family history, Dr. Weight says.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has outlined the following guidelines for people who have no prostate cancer symptoms and have never been diagnosed with prostate cancer:
- Those ages 55 to 69 should make individual decisions about being screened for prostate cancer with a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test.
- Discuss with your doctor the benefits and potential risks of screening for prostate cancer, keeping in mind that an early diagnosis sometimes warrants what's called "active surveillance," where you have regular PSA tests and biopsies to monitor your cancer instead of treatment. For some, this can potentially lead to increased worry and anxiety, according to a May 2013 review in Current Opinion in Urology.
- Those ages 70 and older should not be routinely screened for prostate cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened at age 45 if you're Black or have a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65 (that drops to age 40 if you have more than one first-degree relative diagnosed). But it encourages each person to make the decision about screening only after getting to know the potential risks and benefits, so be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
- American Cancer Society: "Cancer Facts for Men"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it?"
- Cancer.net: “Prostate Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention”
- Cell: “Immunity, Inflammation, and Cancer”
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: “Influence of Diet and Nutrition on Prostate Cancer”
- International Journal of Cancer: “Associations between unprocessed red and processed meat, poultry, seafood and egg intake and the risk of prostate cancer: A pooled analysis of 15 prospective cohort studies”
- Prostate: “Milk and other dairy foods in relation to prostate cancer recurrence: data from the Cancer of the Prostate Strategic Urologic Research Endeavor (CaPSURE™)”
- American Heart Association: "Fruits and Vegetables Serving Sizes Infographic"
- Sports Medicine: "Physical Activity and Prostate Cancer: An Updated Review"
- World Cancer Research Fund: “Be physically active”
- Future Oncology: “Impact of stress on cancer metastasis”
- PLOS One: "Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees’ mental health: A systematic review"
- American Journal of Public Health: “Smoking as a risk factor for prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of 24 prospective cohort studies”
- World Cancer Research Fund: “Limit alcohol consumption”
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Calcium and phosphorus intake and prostate cancer risk: a 24-y follow-up study”
- JAMA: “Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)”
- The New England Journal of Medicine: “Long-term survival of participants in the prostate cancer prevention trial”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Should I Get Screened for Prostate Cancer?"
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: "Final Recommendation Statement. Prostate Cancer: Screening"
- Current Opinion in Urology: "Psychosocial aspects of active surveillance"
- American Society for Nutrition: "Inflammation: What Is It, and how can my diet and behavior affect it?"
- National Cancer Institute: "Risk Factors: Chronic Inflammation"
- Oncology Nutrition: "Prostate Cancer & Calcium Concerns"
- Cancer Therapy & Oncology: "A Plant-Based Diet Prevents and Treats Prostate Cancer"
- American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity"
- Cedars-Sinai: "Explaining the Link Between Prostate Cancer and Obesity"
- American Cancer Society: "American Cancer Society Recommendations for Prostate Cancer Early Detection"