A person looks at a wall of portraits while a strand of DNA winding around them.

Had I Known

While prostate cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States, it also happens to be one of the more survivable cancers when caught early. The latest statistics I saw from the American Cancer Society noted that roughly 3,000,000 men in the United States are living today after having been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So far, I continue to be one of them.1

Asking how it happened

While medical folks take comfort in telling men like me that prostate cancer is a disease that most men live with and die from something else, if you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it can be a scary state of affairs.

Once diagnosed, you may ask yourself, "How did it happen, and why me?" And while no one is quite sure what always causes prostate cancer, some research has suggested that certain environmental chemicals or diet can be contributing factors.3,4,5 Then again, some men may have a genetic susceptibility due to family background.

Assessing the risk of prostate cancer

The American Cancer Society suggests that your personal risk for prostate cancer doubles if a close relative such as a father or brother had the disease in the past, particularly if someone was young when diagnosed.2

If that were not enough, additional information suggests the risk of inherited prostate cancer may not only come from the men in your family but also from your female relatives. If she had hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, due to inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, there is a possibility those hereditary factors may impact you as well.2

A complex disease

Over the past few years, I have been doing some work with the Department of Defense and their grants program for advanced prostate cancer. Over that period, I slowly began to understand that prostate cancer is an extremely complex disease, and it is capable of developing multiple molecular and genetic pathways. I find it is not a simple disease that can be treated with a one-and-done solution.

If someone in your family has a history of cancer that is genetically-based, I believe it can be wise to share that information with your physicians and learn more about genetic testing, so that you can be informed and inform other family members that they might be facing some risk.

Lifestyle choices

In addition to genetics, lifestyle choices may also impact prostate cancer. Just as a poor lifestyle can impact your lungs and heart and other parts of your body, some research suggests that the Western lifestyle, which can include limited physical activity and a diet high in the percentage of fatty and processed foods, can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Not long ago I had the opportunity to hear a urologist speak to the fact that prostate cancer is far more common in North America and in Western Europe than in other parts of the world. He noted that the incidence for prostate cancer is much lower in Asia.3

However, when Asians migrate to the United States or Western Europe, their incidents for prostate cancer increases.4 He pointed out that the patterns closely match cardiovascular disease and diabetes. While the jury is out, apparently researchers are exploring the connections between cardiovascular risk and prostate cancer.

He went on to say that connections may exist between weight and the risk of developing more deadly forms of prostate cancer. Some research has found that healthy lifestyle choices may reduce the risk of severe, deadly forms of the disease.

Getting checked

My takeaway is – if you are younger and someone in your family has been diagnosed with prostate cancer or breast cancer, it can be a good idea to get yourself checked, rather than waiting until you reach age 50.

In closing, I believe it's important to consider that what you are doing today may not impact you immediately, but over the long-haul it could be doing significant damage.

Wish I had known some of this years ago.

What are prostate cancer risk factors you wish you had known about? Let us know in the comments below.

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