The Battle Against Prostate Cancer

Around two and a half million men have prostate cancer. Possibly more, because many people with the condition never even realize it. Like many forms of cancer, prostate cancer has few signs in its earliest stages. In fact, in one study, 80 percent of men who died of natural causes after age 70 had signs of undiagnosed, untreated prostate cancer. Patients may have trouble urinating, or urinate blood, or have other related symptoms in the later stages, but by then treatment is less likely to be successful. Because of its invisibility, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Risk factors include being over 65, obesity, and a family history of the disease, and a study earlier this year found that vasectomy is linked to increased incidence of prostate cancer. Although it only leads to a small increase in the overall risk, men who have had vasectomies are as much as 20 percent more likely to get the most lethal forms of the disease. Ejaculation is known to reduce the risk, but vasectomy, which blocks off the tubes through which semen is ejaculated, nullifies this benefit.

Because of the lack of symptoms, regular screening is an important part of catching prostate cancer in it earliest stages, when it is most responsive to treatment. However, one obstacle to this necessary screening is depression, a condition notoriously underdiagnosed in men. Depressed men are less likely to receive medical care across the board; with prostate cancer, that means later diagnosis and less effective treatment.

Screening is especial;y important for men already at risk. The biggest risk factors are age and genetics. Researchers have found that while lifestyle factors—such as smoking and obesity—are important, genetics is far more of a determining factor. The biological children of people with prostate cancer as as much as twice as likely to get it themselves, regardless of lifestyle.

Scientists have also recently discovered the benefits of tomatoes for reducing susceptibility to prostate cancer. A study found that men can lower their risk of prostate cancer as much as 18 percent by eating tomatoes ten times a week. This is believed to be thanks to the antioxidant lycopene, A fruit- and vegetable-heavy diet is generally recommended to people at risk for prostate cancer, as well as fiber.

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