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September 4, 2012

What causes prostate cancer and how do you know if you have it?

Prostate cancer has become very topical. Everyone wants to know what causes prostate cancer, how do you know you have it, what are the signs of prostate cancer and how to avoid it. Almost every time I am asked to give a talk, it’s about prostate cancer. Everyone tends to think that prostate cancer is deadly and it is the biggest killer of men.{{more}} Indeed, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, but it is not the biggest killer in men, cancer or otherwise. The biggest killers are cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes and cancers like lung and bowel cancers.

No one really knows what causes cancer, but we do know what happens when a cancer forms. Our bodies are made up of very small or microscopic particles called cells. These cells come together to perform specialized functions in structures called organs and our bodies consists of a number of organs. These microscopic cells service themselves but can also remake themselves, or commit suicide when necessary. How long a cell lives, the work it does and the time of death is genetically pre-programmed. In reality, the organ size of mature persons tends to remain the same because the individual cells either do not die or multiply or they do so at the same rate i.e. they multiply as fast as they “die off”. Cancers form when cells that are suppose to “die off” or commit suicide do not. These cells are damaged in such a way that the auto shut-off mechanism does not function and these cells continue to grow uncontrollably. These immortal cells grow to form cancer cells.

We know the associations of prostate cancer, but we do not know how they actually cause prostate cancer, even though we can assume the mechanism by which these toxins cause cancer. This is because not everyone exposed to these toxins develop cancer. The associations are older age, a diet rich in animal fat, a sedentary lifestyle, black men, a lack of certain vitamins, repeated sexually transmitted infections and familial. I will briefly discuss both but I will also state that prostate cancer has no symptoms, as you cannot really know that you have it based on how you feel. Too many men, when asked how long since they had a “check-up” for their prostate, mention that they are fine and they are “not having any pain”. They erroneously assume that they have to have pain when they have cancer and on the flip side of the coin assume that if they have pain, then it must be “cancer”, so they do not come for fear of being diagnosed as cancer. It’s only when the pain, does not go away after several courses of “herbs”, antibiotics and pain killers that they eventually resign to seeing a doctor. This behaviour is so common in men that I thought I’d mention it before discussing the “associations” (some will insist on calling them causes) of prostate cancer.

Age – it is uncommon to find prostate cancer in a man in his 40s, even though not rare; likewise it is rare for a man past 80 not to have evidence of cancer, in his prostate, if it is looked for. It appears that if a man lives long enough, then he will eventually develop prostate cancer, even though he will not be affected by it. As the body gets older, it is less able to heal itself by destroying damaged cells; hence these cells are more able to form cancer cells, as explained above. Not all types of prostate cancer are dangerous. As a general rule, the older you get it, the less dangerous it is.

Diet – diets rich in animal fats and protein or those low in fibre are associated with obesity, which is also associated with a higher risk of cancer. So, adding more fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing processed food and foods high in animal fats and proteins reduce your risks of prostate cancer. Certain foods, especially those from plants and vegetables, contain substances called antioxidants. These antioxidants help the body to heal after it has been damaged. They strengthen the immune system that destroys damaged and precancerous cells and helps to limit the growth and spread of cancers once they develop. Next week we will continues to explore the “causes” of prostate cancer.

For comments or question contact:
Dr Rohan Deshong
Tel: (784) 456-2785
email: deshong@vincysurf.com