Despite occurring almost exclusively in men over the age of 50, prostate cancer is the second most common form of the disease in the U.S. In fact, research shows that more than 70 percent of all men over 80 have at least some cancer cells in their prostate.
Fortunately, the long-term prognosis for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is typically very good, assuming it is caught early before it spreads to other parts of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, the 15-year survival rate is close to 100 percent, thanks to early detection rates and effective treatment options.
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland that is vital to the male reproductive system, and it sits between the bladder, rectum, and penis. Its main function is to produce fluid that transmits sperm during intercourse. Left untreated, cancer of the prostate can be a dangerous, often fatal disease because it is so close to many vital areas of the body. So, it can easily spread to areas that include the bladder, urethra, spine, and pelvis.
Treating prostate cancer
For elderly men with prostate cancer, one of the more frequently prescribed treatments is hormonal therapy, which suppresses testosterone – a hormone that prostate tumors need in order to grow – by limiting the body’s androgen receptors with medication. However, because aging patients are less able to absorb or process internal imbalances, it is important for a physician to monitor the patient’s toxicity levels to make sure they don’t get too high.
Additional treatment options include:
- Surgery. While a prostatectomy, during which part of the prostate is surgically removed, is more often prescribed for younger patients, it is always an option. This procedure can be done in several ways, such as with laparoscopic surgery or as an open procedure. Surgery is usually only an option if the patient is healthy enough to recover with a low risk of complications.
- Radiation. If the patient is too old or not healthy enough to recover safely from a surgical procedure, radiation is also an option. This treatment attacks the cancer cells without invasive surgery. One kind of radiation treatment involves placing small seeds in the prostate that emit radiation that attacks the cancer over several months. Another type of therapy is conducted during radiation sessions that last up to 30 minutes several days per week.
- Observation. For some patients, the best course of action is to simply schedule consistent checkups and regular testing instead of any form of treatment. During that time, the goal is to watch it closely and make sure that the cancer isn’t growing or spreading to other areas. If the patient’s condition changes, some form of therapy would be recommended.
What can you do to prevent prostate cancer?
Because the risk of prostate cancer increases as we age, it’s practically inevitable if you live long enough. And while no prevention measures are 100 percent effective, there are certain steps you can take to minimize your risk. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet. Research shows that people with a body mass index (BMI) above 30 have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. So, keeping your weight down is one way to reduce your risk. Eating more fresh, green vegetables, avoiding greasy or fatty foods, and cutting back on your carbs will help you keep your weight down.
- Getting regular exercise. Another way to keep your weight and your BMI in check is to get regular exercise, especially if you’re also eating the right foods. That doesn’t mean you have to join a fitness club. Instead, you can take a daily walk around your neighborhood, do a half-hour of yoga every day, or simply spend some time doing light gardening or some other hobby that keeps you physically active.
- Reducing stress. Stress has been shown to weaken your immune system, which is constantly fighting cancer cells throughout the body. Also, stress has been shown to help the progression of active cancer cells in the prostate. Make sure you’re spending time with friends and family because isolation can be a major stressor. Exercise, yoga, and meditation can also help reduce your stress.
Most importantly, make sure you’re seeing your physician regularly and being tested for any issues with your prostate. After all, with early detection, prostate cancer is almost 100 percent treatable with full recovery.