Prostate Cancer Facts and Fiction (What’s Truth and What’s Myth?)

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Fact or fiction: Only males get prostate cancer? Okay, that’s an easy one, but how much do you really know about prostate cancer? A better question is, how much of what you hear or read about prostate cancer is fact and how much is fiction?

The following list of statements are some common ones people toss around about prostate cancer. Which category do they fall into, fact or fiction, and do some straddle the line? Let’s find out.

  • Prostate cancer strikes only older men. While it’s true that prostate cancer is more common among men age 65 and older (they make up more than 65% of cases), younger men can and do get prostate cancer. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, 1 in 10,000 men younger than 40 are diagnosed with prostate cancer, but that number increases to 1 in 39 for men ages 40 to 59 and up to 1 in 14 for men ages 60 to 69.
  • Few men get prostate cancer so don’t worry about it. Think of it this way: count up all the men you know–relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, including yourself. Statistics show that 1 in every 6 men will get prostate cancer. That means it could be you, your brother, best friend, boss, uncle. Still not worried?
  • There’s no way to prevent prostate cancer. Technically, this is a fact, but there are numerous ways to significantly reduce your risk of prostate cancer. Among the most important steps you can take to prevent prostate cancer are lifestyle modifications: eat a natural, low-fat diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke, limit or eliminate alcohol, have an active and safe sex life, and manage stress.
  • The PSA test can tell you if you have prostate cancer. Not true. The prostate-specific antigen test is a screening method that measures the level of PSA in the blood. Period. Many things can raise your PSA levels, including factors such as having sex or ejaculating within 24 to 48 hours of the test, presence of prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), riding a bicycle, urinary tract infection, or an enlarged prostate, among other reasons. In most cases, men who have an elevated PSA level do not have prostate cancer.
  • Black men get prostate cancer more than white men. This is a fact. Compared with white men, black men have a twofold increased risk of developing prostate cancer in their early 50s and are at twice the risk of dying of the disease. Prostate cancer is often also more aggressive in black men. Therefore, it is critical for black men to get screened when they reach age 40. Early detection means a better chance of nipping the disease in the bud.
  • If your father had prostate cancer, you’ll get it too. Although it’s a fact that family history is a risk factor for prostate cancer, it is by no means a guarantee you will get the disease as well. Men who have a father or brother who had or has prostate cancer has twice the risk of developing the disease than men without this family history. However, lifestyle changes can go a long way toward reducing a man’s risk.
  • Drinking milk can cause prostate cancer.  If you put milk in your coffee, you’re probably safe, but several studies have indicated that consuming calcium from dairy foods like milk and other dairy products may increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer. Calcium supplements also have been named as a possible cause of prostate cancer.  While the role of calcium in prostate cancer is not exactly clear, it may be wise to limit consumption to no more than the RDA, which is 1,200 mg.
  • All prostate cancer treatments cause erectile dysfunction. Not all, but most treatments for prostate cancer do have erectile dysfunction as a side effect. However, even when men do experience erectile dysfunction associated with external radiation, brachytherapy, prostatectomy, or hormone therapy, it does not mean it is permanent. In fact, when men know erectile dysfunction may be a complication of treatment, they can take steps to minimize its effect before and after treatment.
  • Being overweight increases the risk of prostate cancer. Research has shown that obesity may increase prostate cancer risk, including aggressive prostate cancer, according to a study appropriately called REDUCE. A Duke University team also reported that their work “supports a growing body of literature showing that obese men with prostate cancer do worse.”
  • Having a vasectomy can give you prostate cancer. This is an old wives’ tale. Epidemiological studies have shown there is no increased risk of prostate cancer among men who have had a vasectomy. In fact, you might say men who decide to have a vasectomy do themselves a favor in more ways than one: because a urologist examines the prostate before a vasectomy is performed, men who have undetected prostate cancer are identified and thus can be treated.

Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.

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