Prostate Cancer Myths

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Myth #1: Vasectomy causes prostate cancer

In the 1990’s, a large study from Harvard was published that suggested that those who underwent vasectomies were at a 1.5-times greater risk of developing prostate cancer.1 Although this study included many participants, no other studies have definitively proven the same results. Regardless of whether or not an increase in prostate cancer is associated with vasectomies, the vasectomy is not what causes the condition.

Prostate cancer develops when normal cell growth becomes unregulated. This means that cells are growing and dividing so rapidly, they aren’t being checked for damage or mutations, and are instead creating masses in the body known as tumors. The exact mechanism that cause prostate cancer is unknown, however, researchers have pointed towards specific DNA mutations that may be responsible for the faulty cell lifecycle. These mutations have been thought to be related to hereditary factors, as well as environmental factors such as obesity, smoking, and exposure to dangerous chemicals such as Agent Orange, a chemical used in the Vietnam War.2,3 These factors increase the risk of developing a mutation that could lead to cancerous growth, but they, like vasectomies, do not cause cancer either.

Myth #2: Surgery is the only treatment

Surgery is far from being the only treatment option for those with prostate cancer. While it is true that surgery, including radical prostatectomy and transurethral resection of the prostate, are treatment options for some men, many other treatment options exist. These treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy such as external beam radiation therapy or brachytherapy (internal radiation), cryotherapy, and androgen deprivation therapy (also known as hormone therapy), among others. Surgery is not the only option, and you and your provider will work together to determine the best treatment plan for your specific situation. It’s important to consider the potential side effects of a treatment, and any long-lasting impacts it might have as well, to determine what options are the best for the life you are hoping to lead.

Myth #3: Chemotherapy is the only treatment

Just as explained in myth #2, chemotherapy is far from being the only treatment option for prostate cancer. As listed above, there are many options that exist and you and your provider will work together to determine what’s best for you. Additionally, there is the potential of undergoing watchful waiting or active surveillance with your prostate cancer, which means that no treatment will be used for a period in order to learn more about how your cancer behaves.

Myth #4: Treatment will ruin my sex life

Some treatment options have the potential to cause adverse sexual side effects. Hormone therapy for example, has the potential to decrease your sex drive, while certain surgical procedures have the potential to impact sensory nerves, if a nerve-saving approach is not possible. Other treatment side effects could affect mental health, leading to a decreased sex drive, as well as cause other potentially frustrating issues like urinary or bowel incontinence, impotence, and erectile dysfunction. Your provider will help you determine the sexual health-related risks of your treatment plan in order to determine what approach is best for you. Research into quality of life impacts with prostate cancer treatment as well as watchful waiting and active surveillance techniques are on the rise so that these potentially sex life-altering treatments are only used when necessary.4,5

Myth #5: Prostate cancer only affects old men

The average age of prostate cancer diagnosis is 66 years old, and although it is less common for an individual to be diagnosed before age 65 and older, this certainly still occurs. Roughly 9.3% of those with prostate cancer are diagnosed between 45 and 54 years old, and roughly 32.8% are diagnosed between 55 and 64 years old. Fewer than 20% of all prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 75, so although prostate cancer is typically found in the second half of life, it is not exclusive to only older men.6,7 Further, younger men who receive a prostate cancer diagnosis can also develop aggressive forms of the condition that are life threatening in the same way older men can.

Myth #6: All men with prostate cancer will deal with it the same way

This myth is certainly false. Men in some groups are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer later than others or more likely to experience disparities in treatment outcomes. For example, African American men, gay men, and veterans are three groups that have known health disparities when it comes to prostate cancer and may need different supports than men who are not part of those social groups.

Just as with any chronic condition, especially one that can progress to become life-threatening, the way an individual handles their situation is completely different. While there are some more common emotions that are experienced, such as anxiety or depression, especially for those receiving hormone therapies, this does not mean that these feelings will be universal. Each case of prostate cancer and the person experiencing the condition are different. Some cases are more aggressive than others or diagnosed at a later stage, and the age and personal situation of the individual receiving the diagnosis can also be just as varied. With such a large number of factors contributing to your treatment plan, prognosis, and ability to cope, it is completely normal to expect that no two people will deal with their prostate cancer in the same way.

Myth #7: Changing diet will cure prostate cancer

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is crucial for keeping your body in the best shape possible to fight off anything that comes your way. It has been thought that eating a diet full of healthy vitamins and minerals could decrease your risk of developing cancer or its recurrence, but no research exists that shows changing your diet will cure prostate cancer.8 Eating healthfully while treating your prostate cancer will better help your body fight, but no proof exists that a specific diet will cure the condition.

Myth #8: Prostate cancer is caused from having too much sex

Similar to the myth regarding vasectomies, prostate cancer is not caused by a specific act, like getting a vasectomy or having sex. Prostate cancer causes are on a microscopic level in our body’s cells, however, there are some factors that could increase the risk of developing the cancer. Evidence for sex being included as one of these risk factors is not definitive, and is often contradictory. Some experts think that increasing amounts of sex can lead to inflammation of the prostate or an increased chance of developing a sexually transmitted infection. Inflammation and infection have the possibility to affect our cells. Other experts think that having sex or ejaculating frequently could clean out the male reproductive system and decrease its chance of housing cancer-promoting agents, like infectious particles.9

Overall, individuals practicing risky sexual behaviors and putting themselves at a higher risk for developing sexually transmitted infections may be at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer later on, but having sex in general has not been identified as a cause of prostate cancer.

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view references
  1. Loughlin KR. Can a Vasectomy Increase Prostate Cancer Risk? Harvard Medical School. http://www.harvardprostateknowledge.org/can-a-vasectomy-increase-prostate-cancer-risk. Published April 7, 2011. Accessed August 12, 2017.
  2. Lavery A, Kirby RS, Chowdhury S. Prostate cancer. Medicine. Jan 2016; 44(1), 47-51.
  3. Prostate Cancer Risk Factors. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Published March, 11, 2016. Accessed August 10, 2017.
  4. Wei JT, Dunn RL, Sandler HM, et al. Comprehensive comparison of health-related quality of life after contemporary therapies for localized prostate cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Jan 2002; 20(2). http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/jco.2002.20.2.557 Accessed August 12, 2017.
  5. Resnick MJ, Guzzo TJ, Cowan JE. Factors associated with satisfaction with prostate cancer care: Results from Cancer of the Prostate Strategic Urologic Research Endeavor (CaPSURE). BJU International. Feb 2013; 111(2), 213-220.
  6. Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Published January 5, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017.
  7. SEER Cancer Stat Facts: Prostate cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html. Published April 2017. Accessed August 10, 2017.
  8. Can Prostate Cancer Be Prevented? American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html Published March, 11, 2016. Accessed August 12, 2017.
  9. Does Sexual Activity Affect My Risk of Cancer? Johns Hopkins Medicine: The James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute. http://urology.jhu.edu/newsletter/prostate_cancer712.php. Accessed August 12, 2017.
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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: October 2017
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