Towards the close of 2012, two research teams separately announced new possibilities in treatment for prostate cancer. One technique uses nanotechnology to create smart drugs that can identify and attack cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue alone. Another group of researchers was studying reservatrol, a compound found in red wine and some other foods already known to be good for cardiovascular health and stroke prevention.
Prostate cancer cannot be ignored. It’s the most common cause of death in men over 75, and is highly prevalent in men over 60, who have been exposed to industrial chemicals, who have a family history of the illness, or who have a high-fat diet. Radiation therapy is a common treatment for prostate cancer, either external beam radiation or a procedure called brachytherapy in which radioactive seeds are implanted in the prostate. Hormone therapy is another treatment approach, reducing testosterone levels to starve the tumor. Both of these can cause erectile dysfunction, and radiation therapy can lead to painful urination.
However, researchers in Missouri have found that the compound reservatrol makes cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation, meaning lower doses over a shorter period are needed to destroy tumors almost completely. This, in turn, means the side effects are less severe and briefer. Though dietary reservatrol has little benefit—so little of it reaches the prostate that a patient would have to eat unsafe amounts to see any effect—other delivery methods are being explored.
Meanwhile, Canadian scientists are working on an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments. Current cancer drugs take a scatter-shot approach, damaging healthy tissue and tumor alike and relying on the body’s healing mechanism to only regenerate healthy cells. This is what causes the hair loss and immune system effects of chemotherapy. Nanotechnology may make it possible to create drugs that only affect tumors, leaving healthy cells alone. These smart drugs can also be used more aggressively than chemotherapy.
However, prevention is even more effective than treatment. Avoiding alcohol and animal fats can help lower the risk of prostate cancer, particularly in men who are already at risk. Getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy weight is important. In addition, the flavonoids in plant-based foods help lower the risk of prostate cancer. This may be why vegetarians have a lower risk of the disease than the general population.