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In North America the month of November is dedicated to raising awareness about men’s health issues. This month encourages men to get routine prostate exams, check in with their doctor and talk about health prevention, screening and treatments.
The Prostate gland
The prostate gland is a walnut sized organ in males. The main function of this gland is to release seminal fluid, a specific type of fluid that nutritionally supports sperm cells and provides a smooth medium for transport.
Most men will develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), commonly referred to as an enlarged prostate, as they age. Although quite common, it is a non-cancerous condition since the cells of the prostate gland are normal and healthy. Alternatively, when the prostate cells become abnormal and are no longer responding to normal cell signaling, the gland can become cancerous, leading to prostate cancer.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) it is one of the most common cancers in Canadian men. The CCS estimates 64 men in Canada are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day and that 1 in 9 Canadian men will develop prostate cancer within their lifetime.
Prostate cancer generally occurs slowly over many months or even years. The cancerous tissue can be confined to the gland itself or spread rapidly and aggressively to other parts of the body. The former has better outcomes than the latter, which can unfortunately lead to death.
Risk factors and screening tests
The cause of prostate cancer is still unknown but there are some known risk factors for prostate cancer:
Risk factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer include:
• Over 50 years of age
• Black race
• Family history of prostate cancer
Prostate cancer may not have signs or symptoms in the early stages but advanced disease cases may cause changes in urination such as:
• Difficulty initiating urine flow
• Poor urine flow
• Pain or burning sensation with urination
• Blood in the urine
Screening for prostate cancer can be done by visiting the doctor. A digital rectal exam enables the doctor to physically detect if there are any changes to the shape, size and smoothness of the gland. Additionally, a blood test called Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is used in conjunction with the digital rectal exam to screen for prostate cancer. Most doctors begin screening men at the age of 50. Men who are at a higher risk, such as those with a family history of cancer or black men are recommended to begin screening at 45 years of age.
Reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer is not easily achieved. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill. Although studies are mixed, removing certain foods from your diet may offer a number of benefits, including supporting healthy prostate cells. Choosing a diet that is high in vegetables and fruits, low in saturated fats, meat and dairy products can be beneficial. Maintaining a healthy weight is important since obesity has been linked to an increase in prostate cancer. Lastly, developing an exercise regimen such as walking for 30 minutes a day, offer numerous benefits to overall health, including reducing the risk of prostate cancer.
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