While drug companies search for a ‘magic bullet’, a consistent picture is emerging that suggests that prostate cancer is caused by a combination of factors, the most significant being:
- Exposure to carcinogens
- Lack of antioxidants
- Excess hormonal growth signals
These factors are remarkably similar to the emerging story for breast cancer, which is not surprising since the cells that make up prostate tissue are also under hormonal control. During adolescence, hormones trigger the prostate to grow from the size of a pea to the size of a walnut, in a similar way that they trigger female breast growth.
Problems with Your Prostate?
If the prostate swells (inflammation) or enlarges (overgrowth of cells) it can act like a clamp, making it harder to urinate. This is very common in men later in life. Sometimes overgrowth of cells can be benign. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and affects one in three men over the age of 60. Although there is no clear link between BPH and prostate cancer, other than difficulty peeing, too many men avoid going to their doctor. In both cases, the earlier you know what’s happening the better.
Traces of prostate cancer are commonly found in older men who have died from other causes. According to Professor Jonathan Waxman of Imperial College, London, little spots of cancer occur in 70% of 70 year olds, 60% of 60 year olds and 50% of 50 year olds, but their relationship with the development of aggressive cancer is unknown. A non-aggressive type of prostate cancer is known as prostatic intra-epithelial neoplasia or PIN. Some doctors regard PIN as being a precursor of cancer, however not all agree.
The most commonly used screening test for prostate health is a blood test measuring PSA (prostate-specific antigen). This is produced by the prostate gland. High levels of PSA may be an early indicator of prostate cancer – but it is also raised in BPH, so a high level doesn’t always mean you are going to develop cancer. Generally, having a PSA below 2.5 if you’re under 60, or 4 if you are over 60, is consistent with good health. Doctors can also carry out a digital rectal examination (DRE), however this is also prone to false positives. I recommend having more than one PSA ......
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