How to prevent and reverse prostate cancer

  • 7 Oct 2009
  • Reading time 14 mins
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What you can do to ensure you don’t develop prostate cancer, and how to help yourself recover if you already have it.

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
  • Inflammation
  • 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 test over a period of months if the initial test is high. If your level is above 10, combined with a positive DRE, you will probably be recommended to have a needle biopsy. This identifies if there are any cancerous cells present, and the degree of abnormality.

If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, one of the most interesting and non-invasive treatments is HIFU (high intensity focused ultrasound). This is targeted at the cancer cells only. Another is PDT (photodynamic therapy) which uses a laser light to activate chemotherapy drugs. If done well this means that the drugs designed to kill cancer cells don’t end up damaging other healthy cells, which is the fundamental problem with chemotherapy, and part of the reason why the side-effects are so bad. But none of these address the underlying cause, and what you can do to make sure you never get this far.

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

To search for answers to these questions I went to meet Professor Jane Plant, who became an expert on certain hormonal cancers after reversing her own breast cancer, at the stage when treatment was considered a waste of time, and who has written the highly-informative book Prostate Cancer: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Prostate Cancer. I also contacted Dr Emily Ho from the Linus Pauling Institute, and studied the work of Colin Campbell in his book The China Diet. This is especially relevant since prostate cancer is virtually unknown in rural China (the incidence is one in 25,000).

The general view is that there are three contributory sets of conditions. Firstly, there is initiation, whereby prostate cells get damaged in some way so that they become cancerous. Secondly, there is generalised inflammation, which itself increases oxidants which, in turn, damage cells. And lastly, there is growth, encouraged by certain hormones and growth factors.

Professor Plant is convinced that exposure to herbicides, pesticides, hormone-disrupting chemicals and toxic elements such as cadmium may initiate these ‘cancer seeds’. Dr Ho believes that a pro-inflammatory diet of fried food, meat, refined foods and lack of antioxidants helps generate more oxidants and less antioxidants, potentially leading to cell damage. “Chronic inflammation may be the cause for as much as one third of all cancers,” she says. “Tissues may be chronically inflamed and large quantities of [oxidants] produced locally can cause tissue damage and even alterations in DNA resulting in mutations”.1 All agree that a diet high in organic fresh fruit, vegetables and whole foods, low in meat, but including anti-inflammatory omega-3-rich oily fish, would minimise this risk. Incidentally, cadmium is found in orange-coloured cooking dishes. This can degrade and enter food, so do make sure you cook in stainless steel.

The key antioxidants

Two key antioxidants are zinc and selenium. Zinc is found to be deficient in prostate cancer patients, and low levels are a good predictor of risk. Zinc is both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, as well as helping to repair damaged DNA. Most of us don’t get anything like enough. I recommend supplementing 10-20mg a day and eating zinc-rich foods (seeds, nuts and seed and nut butters such as tahini).

Low selenium is also a good predictor of prostate cancer. Professor Plant recommends people supplement about 100mcg of selenium. Lycopene in tomatoes, quercitin in red onions, vitamin C and E are all important antioxidants with good evidence suggesting an anti-prostate cancer effect both from foods and isolated nutrients.

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