This Men’s Health Month, know the risks, the symptoms and the importance of screening

June is National Men’s Health Month, a month used to encourage men to take care of their bodies by eating correctly, exercising, and  increasing efforts to prevent disease. When it comes to prostate cancer and lifestyle factors, there is some evidence that a diet low in vegetables and high in animal fat, particularly red and processed meats, may increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.

According to the National Cancer Registry (NCR), the incidence of prostate cancer in South Africa almost doubled between 2007 and 2017, with current statistics stating that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. 

Professor Shingai Mutambirwa, a founding member of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (PCF), says that prostate cancer is the second most common cause of male death from cancer, and the second most common cancer in men, after skin cancer.

“We always advise men to follow a healthy diet and to be physically active, as this helps to maintain good general health,” says Andrew Oberholzer, CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (PCF) when asked what lifestyle factors may influence the development of prostate cancer. He says that the dietary intake of lycopene, the organic pigment which gives tomatoes and some other fruits and vegetables their colour, has been reported to decrease the risk of prostate cancer.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, studies have indicated that men who consume canned and cooked tomatoes several times a week could benefit from a decreased risk of prostate cancer, compared with men who never consume these foods.

While these findings are encouraging, Oberholzer says that there is just not enough evidence yet to establish a definite link.

“At this stage, the only modifiable risk factor that has been identified is ejaculatory frequency. There is evidence that men who have more than 21 ejaculations per month have a 20% reduced risk for prostate cancer,” says Oberholzer.

Race is a major risk factor for prostate cancer, with black African men having a 60% increased risk for prostate cancer. They are also about 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts.

Age is also a risk factor, with the incidence peaking between the ages of 65 and 74, while family history is another. “Having a first-degree relative with prostate or breast cancer increases the risks significantly. There is a lot of development in terms of genetics and prostate cancer, so hopefully we will eventually reach a point where genetic testing will be able to identify at risk individuals,” he says.

It is because of these risk factors that African men and men who have a family history of prostate and/or breast cancer in a first degree relative need to get screened annually from the age of 40. All men over the age of 45 need to be screened annually. In addition, patients with a history of lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) and / or with a clinical suspicion of prostate cancer, regardless of  their age or race group, should be tested.

Mutambirwa, who is the Head of Department of Urology at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences

University (SMU) in Pretoria, says that if you pick up prostate cancer early, which requires

screening, you have a 95% chance of being cured and will have a similar life expectancy to someone without the cancer.

“A PSA blood test at your health care practitioner can take a couple of seconds and can potentially save your life,” he says. A PSA test is a simple blood test that measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood stream. An elevated reading could indicate the presence of prostate cancer and would require further investigation. A digital rectal examination (DRE) should also be performed as there are some types of prostate cancer that don’t cause a rise in PSA.

An increase in having to urinate, especially at night, and the urine stream becoming weaker, are two symptoms that older men in particular need to be aware of when it comes to possible signs of prostate cancer, although these symptoms are often a related to an enlarged prostate.

While the myriad of health information out there can be overwhelming when it comes to disease prevention, the bottom line is that exercising, not smoking and following a healthy diet are the cornerstones of good health and should be encouraged. Early detection of prostate cancer also saves lives, so know your risk factors and get your PSA screening done annually as recommended.

The Hollard Daredevil Run is an annual event that helps to raise awareness about both prostate and testicular cancer. The event, which also raises funds for CANSA and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of South Africa (PCF), will be taking place again later this year. Follow Daredevil Run on Facebook to keep up to date with details about this year’s event, as well as men’s cancer awareness information.

For more information, and to find a healthcare professional involved in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer in South Africa, go to https://prostate-ca.co.za/ or https://cansa.org.za/.