Gloria Yankson’s thoughts … The prostate and cancer – what every man needs to know


Prostate cancer kills many men each year in Ghana. This male only disease can be managed successfully if detected early.

Know your prostate

The prostate gland is found only in men. It is a small sex gland, the size of a small tangerine (or golf ball) and is located between the penis and the bladder, surrounding the urethra (the narrow tube that carries urine from the bladder and semen during ejaculation). The prostate gland forms part of the male reproduction system. It is indeed a very important part of a man’s sex life. The prostate is surrounded by a collection of nerves called the prostatic plexus, which helps to control erectile function.

Another important function of the prostate is to produce semen that nourishes and transports the sperms. It weighs approximately 20 grams and grows bigger as a man gets older in age. For this reason, the prostate as it increases in size, can press on the urethra causing urinary symptoms like urgency, frequency and difficulty in urinating. These symptoms can be attributed to many conditions that affects the prostate, which includes Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), Inflammation and Infection of the Prostate and Prostate Cancer.

What is Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer begins when the cells in the prostate gland start to develop abnormally, grow uncontrollably and ceases to function as healthy cells. These abnormal cells, have the ability to multiply and spread to other parts of the body causing serious harm, sometimes death if untreated.

Prostate Cancer is a common male cancer and staggering statistics indicates that about 1 out of every 3 men in West Africa will develop prostate cancer in their life time. In Ghana, prostate cancer is the no. 1 cancer diagnosed in men. More frightening is the fact that, prostate cancer in Ghana, is responsible for most deaths from cancers affecting men.

Men of African descent have a higher risk of developing the disease, being diagnosed late and dying from the disease. When prostate cancer begins, most men will not experience any symptoms. In fact, prostate cancer in most cases can be slow-growing and some men will live so many years without developing symptoms.  However, a significant proportion of prostate cancer, if undiagnosed or detected early enough and treated may have serious consequences.

Does Prostate Cancer have any symptoms

As cancer in the prostate also known as a tumour increases in size, urinary symptoms begin to manifest. The symptoms of non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate and of prostate cancer are similar and include:

  • Passing urine more frequently, particularly in the night time
  • Difficulty in starting to pass urine
  • Difficulty in stopping to pass urine
  • Sensation of not emptying the bladder fully
  • Difficulty having an erection

In the advanced stage of prostate cancer,

  • Pain when passing urine or ejaculating
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Bone pain

Unfortunately, some men have a more aggressive form of prostate cancer and in such cases, the initial presentation may be of the prostate cancer having spread to the bones with symptoms of persistent and worsening pain in the bones.

Factors that contributes to Prostate Cancer

The specific cause of prostate cancer is largely unknown. However, there are certain risk factors that increases a man’s likelihood of developing the disease.

These are the H.A.R.D facts every Ghanaian man should know:

  • History in the family – You are 2 times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father or brother has had the disease compared to a man who has had no relatives with a diagnosis of prostate cancer
  • Age – Prostate cancer typically affects men over the age of 50 and the risk increases with age. Men under 50 can get it but this is not common.
  • Race – Men of African descent have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer than Caucasian men. Men from the Far East are less likely to develop prostate cancer.
  • Diet – A diet high in saturated fat, being obese and a lack of physical activity increases a man’s risk of developing the disease. Studies suggest that obese men may be at a higher risk of a more aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Indeed, from the list above, you can deduce that these major risk factors, except diet are not modifiable – one cannot, for instance change their race, age, or family history.

How to reduce your risk of Prostate Cancer

It is recommended that all men achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a nutritious diet and regular physical activity. As well as regular exercise being good for your wellbeing, there is evidence to suggest that it can also reduce your risk of advanced and/ or aggressive prostate cancer in addition to certain foods that may decrease your risk of the disease.

Experts advice that physical activity specifically one that makes you sweat and causes your heart rate to increase such as brisk walking, jogging and cycling is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Exercising 30mins to an hour, 5 days a week is recommended and yields substantial benefits.

Of course, a healthy diet improves your general well-being and can help prevent other serious illnesses.

Some foods known to help lower your risk of prostate cancer you might want to consider are:

Fish – Certain fish like salmons, sardines, mackerel and trout are known for its ‘good fats’  and helps prevents inflammation in the body. Scientist believe that inflammation is one of the causes that can make it easier for cancer to develop in the prostate. These essential fats are Omega 3 fatty acids that your body can’t make for itself and therefore you get  from food sources such as fish. It is recommended that all men eat at least 2 servings of fish per week.

Nuts – Another good source of ‘good fats’ are nuts, seeds, olive oils which are a plant based form of Omega 3 fatty acids. Some nuts are enjoyed with salt as seasoning and therefore one should be cautious with the amount of salt may can cause other diseases.

Tomatoes – Cooked tomatoes has a powerful antioxidants called Lycopene found in the cell walls of tomatoes. The cooking process makes it easier for our bodies to access the antioxidants and sends it to the prostate. Tomatoes sauce, paste, juice and sundried tomatoes are nutritionally beneficial. Even better, tomatoes cooked in olive oil enhances the benefits for the prostate.

Cruciferous vegetables – These include cabbage, cauliflower, greens, broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts which can be found on the market. They contain phytochemical (phyto means plant) sulforaphane which is believed to target and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells to fight. Eating cruciferous vegetables can lower your risk of getting prostate cancer.

Soy – Consuming soy instead of less healthy sources of proteins such as processed meat offers some health benefits. Studies in the Asian population who tend to have a higher intake of soy suggests that greater soy intake is associated with a lower risk of developing Prostate Cancer. Some soy products are tofu, soy milk and soy beans.

Green Tea – The versatile leaves of green tea is another great source of antioxidants. It contains multiple antioxidant compounds called catechins, believed to have anti- cancer properties. Some studies found that men who drink 5 cups of green tea a day are likely to have a decreased risk of prostate cancer.

Detecting Prostate Cancer early

When prostate cancer begins, most men do not have any symptoms until it is advanced. The only way to detect the disease early is through regular screening and health checks from age 45, earlier if you have a family history.

We strongly advocate for prostate cancer screening as this increases a man’s chances of surviving the disease.

Screening for prostate cancer is very simple with a combination of the PSA test and Digital Rectal Exams (DRE). A Prostate Specific Antigen- PSA is a blood test that measures the amount of PSA protein in the body.  A Digital Rectal Examination – DRE is a simple procedure where a doctor checks for abnormalities by assessing the prostate gland from the rectum.

Screening recommendations for Black Africans should commence at age 40 if you have a family history. All other men of Black African descent begin from age 45. Routine screening after age 70 (thus if one started screening from age 45 with no rise in PSA) is not recommended.

What to do if you get Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer can be treated successfully when detected early and the appropriate treatment given. Treatment of prostate cancer depends on the grade and stage of the disease, fitness and wishes of the patient. For early stage disease, surgery, radiotherapy or hormonal therapy is usually considered. For cancer that has already spread outside the prostate, options include chemotherapy as well as newer targeted medications such as Abiraterone.

Knowing your risks of prostate cancer empowers you to make the right choices about your health and well-being.

>>>The author is Cancer Care Nurse and Founder of Cancer Connect GH, 0557796485. Facebook @CancerConnectGH, Honouring Ghanaian Men in June Series

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