Are you at risk for prostate cancer? Everything you need to know to stay healthy

·4-min read

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Doctor physician consulting with male patients in hospital exam room. Men's health concept
Doctor physician consulting with male patients in hospital exam room. Men's health concept

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Prepare to see a lot more facial hair with Movember officially underway. The global movement, sparked by two friends in Australia in 2003, has reached millions around the world, including here in Canada.

Every year men pledge their support by growing moustaches throughout the month of November to help raise money and awareness for men’s health issues. 

One of the health issues highlighted through this cause is prostate cancer, which affects more than 1.4 million men worldwide each year, according to Movember Canada

Medical experts say as men age, it’s important they understand the changes to their body that could have a significant impact on their overall health.

Function of the prostate

The prostate is a small gland that's part of the male reproductive system. It sits low in the pelvis, just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The walnut-sized gland helps create the fluid in male ejaculate. 

Common enlarged prostate symptoms

As men get older their prostate grows larger and may push up into the bladder and pinch the urethra, the urine tube that drains the bladder. These changes could lead to urinary problems, including having to urinate more often during the day, having an urgency to pass urine and getting up throughout the night to go to the bathroom.

Enlarged prostate diagram: Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer
As men age, the prostate gland can enlarge. On the left, a "normal" sized prostate gland surrounding the urethra, and on the right, an enlarged prostate gland. (Image via Getty Images)

“Like many of our organs as we get older there’s an accumulation of DNA damage from mutations over the years and sometimes that DNA damage can lead to a cancer in the prostate. It’s actually very common to get prostate cancer,” Dr. Scott Tyldesley, a radiation oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency, said in an interview with Yahoo Canada

Tyldesley, who is also a clinical professor in the Division of Radiation Oncology at the University of British Columbia, says a symptom that’s more rare, and potentially more sinister, occurs when prostate cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the pelvis. If this happens men will experience swelling in their legs.

Prostate cancer can also spread to the bones, which can lead to new or unusual bone pain, particularly between the joints, the spine or pelvis.

Men over the age of 50 should speak to their doctors about regular screenings for prostate cancer. (Image via Getty Images)
Men over the age of 50 should speak to their doctors about regular screenings for prostate cancer. (Image via Getty Images)

“If somebody’s getting a lot of perineum or prostate pelvic pain particularly in combination with those urine symptoms that would be something you should get checked out sooner rather than later,” Tyldesley advised.

One of the ways men can get screened is through a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which measures the amount of PSA in your blood.

“That is not a diagnostic test for prostate cancer, but people who have a higher than normal level of PSA, particularly if it’s coupled with some other problems, increases the probability that they have prostate cancer,” Tyldesley added. “We often use some combination of symptoms, physical findings and PSA levels to decide whether to pursue a biopsy. Ultimately it’s a biopsy that helps determine whether somebody has prostate cancer.”

Who is at risk for prostate cancer?

According to Tyldesley, men between the ages of 55 and 70 should talk to their doctor about getting regularly screened for prostate cancer.

Aside from age, there may be a genetic predisposition to prostate cancer that can increase a person's risk, making it vital to knowing your family's medical history. For example, if your dad and brother have a history of prostate cancer then it’s more important you get tested. Men who come from families with a history of breast cancer also have a higher risk of prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. 

Men can be proactive about their prostate health by adopting a healthy diet with regular exercise (Image via Getty Images).
Men can be proactive about their prostate health by adopting a healthy diet with regular exercise (Image via Getty Images).

The institute's research also shows race is a factor linked to the cancer. African-American men have the highest risk of prostate cancer, followed by Caucasian, Hispanic and Native American men. 

“There are some differences in rates and severity in different ethnic groups even within the same country, but it’s not entirely clear if that’s an underlying genetic factor or an environmental factor,” Tyldesley noted.

How men can be proactive about their prostate health

Aside from knowing your family's medical history, Tyldesley said eating a healthy diet is also important for your prostate health. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday, minimizing red meat in your diet, exercising several times a week and moderating the amount of alcohol in your diet are all important steps to take to ensure prostate and overall health. 

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