September, now renamed Blue September, is the month assigned to raise the awareness of prostate cancer (PCa) internationally. While most men squirm uncomfortably and start flicking through the junk mail when you broach the topic of their health, Blue September is about men facing up to the statistics on PCa and really becoming proactive in helping manage this common disease.
PCa is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men over the age of 45, and the second leading cause of cancer death (behind lung cancer) – with approximately as many men dying from PCa as women do from breast cancer.(1) PCa generally progresses slowly; therefore early detection and effective treatments are possible.
Prostate Cancer: Signs & Side Effects
Signs of prostate cancer include; needing to pass urine frequently; difficulty urinating – the flow is erratic; a poor flow (often described as a dribble) and an increased need to urinate at night. These signs can also indicate Benign Prostate Hyperplasia, but need to be investigated to obtain a conclusive diagnosis.
As it is with any serious health condition, conventional treatment options can often be invasive as well as carry some significant risk of adverse side-effects. News and studies published this year have highlighted positive changes that can be made in terms of the way orthodox treatments are used to treat PCa. These initiatives allow for a person to attain and maintain a better quality of life as well as implementing lifestyle, dietary and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices that can further add to their healing and overall wellbeing. Under the guidance of a natural health professional there are herbs and nutrients that have been shown to have positive effects on prostate cancer cells. Two of these are Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) and vitamin D. A 2012 study of 525 Swedish men found that those with a high marine omega-3 EFA intake were 40% less likely to die from PCa(2), while low blood levels of vitamin D are related to a higher incidence and reduced survival rates of cancer in general.(3,4)
Alternative Treatment Hopes
Some hopeful news has recently come from Dr Edwin Posadas, a PCa specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, who is suggesting the use of “active surveillance”, a system whereby men with low-risk prostate cancer can decide on a wait-and-see approach in which doctors monitor the disease until it shows signs of progression (if at all) before commencing traditional and routine therapies such as surgery or radiation. The risks associated with surgery include impotence (the inability to get an erection) and incontinence (urine leakage) when a man laughs, exercises, or lifts something heavy. Dr Posadas proposed system will enable a more individualised and specific approach to treatment protocols – much like those undertaken for breast cancer patients, rather than putting men through the added stress of perhaps unnecessary medical procedures.(5)
Another positive finding has come from a recent study looking at the intermittent versus continual use of androgen deprivation therapy. Androgen deprivation therapy suppresses circulating male hormones such as testosterone that are known to “feed” prostate tumours and is used sometimes in conjunction with surgery and/or radiation or if the cancer returns after treatment. The study found that intermittent androgen deprivation (i.e. receiving a lesser amount of the hormonal therapy) posed no increased risk of disease progression when compared to continual use. This is fantastic news for men as the side effects associated with continual hormone-deprivation therapy include erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, bone loss and depression. These were all reduced in the intermittent group.(6)
2. Epstein MM, et al. Dietary Fatty Acid intake and prostate cancer survival in Orebro County, Sweden. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Aug 1;176(3):240-52.
3. Grant WB, Peiris AN. Differences in vitamin D status may account for unexplained disparities in cancer survival rates between African and white Americans. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012Apr 1;4(2):85-94.
4. Khadilkar VV, Khadilkar AV. Use of Vitamin D in Various Disorders. Indian JPediatr. 2012 Sep 6.
6 Crook JM et al. Intermittent androgen suppression for rising PSA level after radiotherapy. N Engl J Med. 2012 Sep 6;367(10):895-903.)