Cancer Insights: Urologist Bertram Yuh on prostate cancer risk

September 1, 2014 | by Bertram Yuh M.D.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Here, Bertram Yuh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope, explains the importance of understanding the risk factors for the disease and ways to reduce those risks, as well as overall prostate health.

Prostate cancer expert Bertram YuhBertram Yuh, a urologic cancer expert at City of Hope, explains prostate cancer risk factors and how to reduce them.
“What are my prostate cancer risks?” That's becoming a more common, and increasingly important, question.

A lot of men wonder what can be done to prevent or reduce their risk of prostate cancer. The good news is, there's a lot of research being conducted in this area regarding risks and influencing factors.

We already know there are racial predilections, such as that African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and that, when they're diagnosed, the cancer tends to be more aggressive. We also know that prostate cancer is less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men.

Further, while prostate cancer is certainly more common in older men, there is some recent clinical literature that states prostate cancer in younger men can be more aggressive. It is quite possible for a 47-year-old and a 77-year-old to have prostate cancers that behave differently.

I can't treat every patient the same way just because their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) or Gleason grades look the same. In my role as a urology oncologist, I need to look at the whole patient.

The role of diet and history

Diet does play a role in the development of prostate cancer. Studies suggest that diets heavy in red or charred meats or very fatty meats likely increase the risk of prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the Westernized diet tends to favor these types of food, which is one reason we see such a high amount of prostate cancer here, as opposed to the rates in countries such as China, where people historically have consumed less animal protein and more plant-based foods.

Family history is also a risk factor. Men who have a first-generation relative, such as a brother or father with prostate cancer, have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer themselves.

There is a lot of information out there on prostate cancer risk, as well as many myths, questions and subjects of debate.  Some people maintain that different vitamins and supplements, or certain diets, can prevent or increase the risk of prostate cancer. It's important to keep in mind that a lot of this information has not fully panned out yet and is still being studied.

For example, some research suggests that a high amount of vitamin E might be harmful, increasing the risk of prostate cancer. Other studies suggest that tomatoes, or the lycopene found in tomatoes, and selenium might help prevent prostate cancer. Again, the data haven't been well-studied enough to recommend these foods on a wide-scale basis.

Our best recommendations are to exercise regularly, eat healthy, limit red or charred meats, eat a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, and consume all things in moderation.

When to consult a doctor

More often than not, men are guilty of not going to the doctor when something is wrong, or even for regular health check-ups.

A common issue among men is urinary problems, such as a weakened urinary stream, blood in the urine, intermittency of urinary stream, a frequent need to urinate and having to repeatedly get up at night to use the bathroom. Urinary problems aren’t anything to be extremely concerned about, but they should warrant an evaluation by a urologist, who would be more likely to test for prostate cancer than a primary care doctor.

Unless men get evaluated, there's no way to determine whether urinary issues are being caused by an enlarged prostate or by prostate cancer. Enlarged prostates and the related symptoms are common in aging men, and they don't necessarily mean there's anything insidious in the background, such as prostate cancer.

Simple evaluations can detect both urinary issues and larger problems before they progress, so I encourage men not to neglect their symptoms.

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Learn more about prostate cancer research and treatment at City of Hope.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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