What is prostate cancer?

In the time you read this article, chances are an American man will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. With 189,000 new cases annually, it is the most common internal cancer in American men, and second only to lung cancer among malignant causes of death. The death rate peaked in 1992 and has been falling.

Age is the strongest predictor of risk for prostate cancer. The Report of the U.S. Preventive Sciences Task Force put together this table:

Age group

Risk of prostate cancer







80 and over

Up to 90%

The scary thought is that if you live long enough, you probably will get prostate cancer. Yet the likelihood of dying from it, compared to other causes, is fairly low.

How can somebody lower the risk of developing it?

Diet seems to play a big role.

When comparing diets from different cultures, men living in countries with a high consumption of fat have a much greater risk of developing prostate cancer than men in countries with low fat intake. For example, men in America, including those of Japanese descent, are nine times more likely to die from prostate cancer than men in Japan.

The most important development in men’s health is the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. One of the major functions of the prostate is to store semen. The gland also converts testosterone and other male sex hormones. The PSA test allows doctors to detect prostate cancer at its earliest, potentially most curable, phase, by liquefying semen.

The American Cancer Society recommends that doctors offer annual PSA testing to every man over the age of 50. For men with a family history of prostate cancer as well as other risk factors, such as being of African-American descent, doctors can start testing annually at 45.

Unfortunately, there is currently some confusion that surrounds the best strategy for treatment, since men with prostate cancer are likely to get different advice from different doctors. Researchers from Harvard, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut asked more than 1,000 physicians what they would recommend for a patient. The results were split, with 93 percent of urologists recommending surgery while 72 percent of radiation oncologists suggesting radiotherapy.

A silver lining is that a diagnosis of prostate cancer, like other cancers, is no longer a death sentence. A study from Connecticut found men who were diagnosed with localized, low-grade prostate cancer between 65 and 75 years of age who did not get treatment lived just as long as men who never had prostate cancer.



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