Prostate cancer is the third cause of cancer-related death in Canada following lung and colorectal cancer. It comprises 10% of all cancers. Once it occurs, its effects are both unpleasant and encumbering. Its symptoms include pain, erectile dysfunction, difficulty urinating, hematuria (i.e., blood in the urine) and symptoms of Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH), which I’ll cover later on.
Prostate cancer likes to spread to lymph nodes and to bones, which makes it more challenging to treat. The standard treatment is surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. All three bring significant discomfort and potentially serious complications. This is precisely why prevention is so critical.
WHAT IS THE PROSTATE?
But before I go into detail about prostate cancer, BPH, prophylactic tests and treatment options, let me explain what the prostate actually is. The prostate is a gland-like structure the size of a walnut, (which resembles a walnut), that encircles the part of urethra, (i.e., the tube through which urine flows), that leads from the urinary bladder to the penis. Its function is to provide about 50-70% of the volume of the ejaculate. This fluid volume plays a number of important roles. Firstly, it provides the fluid volume in which sperm can swim; both before entering the reproductive tract of the female and after. Its pH is alkaline, which increases the survivability of sperm. It also contains two important compounds. The first is Prostate Acid Phosphatase and the second is the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). Both liquefy the semen liquid, making it easier for sperm to swim towards the egg for proper fertilization. The PSA is also a compound which increases in both prostate cancer and BPH, making it the most popular marker to help diagnose both of these conditions.
What Tests Can Detect Prostate Cancer Early
Which are the best prophylactic tests for the prevention of prostate cancer? The first and most important are prophylactic medical tests. Every man should begin undergoing digital rectal examinations at the age of 40 and every year thereafter. I know that this test is very intimate and embarrassing, but the key is to stop thinking about it this way. Doctors, who take no more pleasure than you in administering the tests, are trained to look at the human body and at medical tests without emotion. To the ideal doctor, it is just an anatomic structure that needs to be properly examined. It’s like an auto mechanic looking at the cylinders of an engine to detect wear and tear.
The digital rectal exam is a good exam, meaning that it is quite sensitive in detecting abnormal changes, but its success is determined by the skill of the examiner. Unfortunately, the vast majority of doctors lack the proper skill level required for these medical duties.
Therefore, a much better test is actually examining the prostate by inserting an ultrasound probe through the rectum to get a visual picture of the prostate. Unfortunately, due to our tax-based social health care system, most doctors will not give you a referral for an ultrasound exam, simply because it is more expensive than the digital exam. But there are options. Either you can pay extra for the exam (not a significant expense), you can pressure your doctor to give you a referral for an ultrasound, or you can go to the US where they will be more than happy to provide you with the ultrasound test at a price.
In addition to the prostate rectal examination, it is also prudent to measure the PSA. As mentioned above, the PSA increases in both prostate cancer and BPH. What is actually measured is something more accurate than just the level of blood PSA: it’s called PSA density, i.e., the amount of PSA in the blood divided by the volume of the prostate. It gives a more accurate and more predictive value.
PREVENTION & SUPPLEMENTS
The other equally important aspect of prostate cancer prevention is a healthy lifestyle. Prostate cancer is linked to obesity and an unhealthy diet, which causes inflammation. Long term inflammation may lead to cellular changes that can predispose to cancer formation. The perfect diet for the prostate is the “Mediterranean Diet”, composed of lots of antioxidants, veggies, fruits, healthy oils, fish, chicken and no beef. Alcohol and tobacco predispose to prostate cancer just like they do other cancers.
By far, the best supplement is saw palmetto extract. This is an excellent and very well-researched plant compound that prevents and combats BPH, but it also inhibits the growth of the prostate and inflammation. That means it eliminates two contributing factors that can predispose to cancer.
Until November 30th at Vitarock, 100% of profits of Every Man Jack products will be donated to the Movember Foundation.
Stay healthy, my friends.