Prostate problems—Enlargement and cancer?

Dear Alice,

What can you tell me about prostate problems? I ask for no specific reason, only that I (a young male) notice that a lot of older males suffer from either prostate cancer or enlargement. I suppose what I really want to know is this: Are there things I can be doing now (diet, etc.) to help prevent this down the road? I once heard somebody mentioning avoiding coffee for this reason. Is there truth to that?

— Thinking ahead

Dear Thinking ahead, 

Kudos to you for thinking ahead and assessing how your current lifestyle may impact your future health! You're right on the mark that people with prostates tend to go through bodily changes as they age. To understand these changes, it may help to start by reviewing the function of the prostate gland. The prostate is a donut-shaped gland the size of a walnut, located in front of the rectum and underneath the bladder. Its primary function is to produce seminal fluid—a substance that provides nourishment to semen—and use its muscles to propel that fluid through the urethra during ejaculation. Read on for information on how you can keep up your prostate health. 

Some conditions that may impact prostate health include: 

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): BPH is a condition characterized by a noncancerous enlargement, or a benign prostatic enlargement (BPE). This is often due to the presence of a benign or noncancerous tumor. If you have BPH, it’s recommended to reduce, or limit, the consumption of caffeinated beverages as they can irritate an enlarged prostate. 
  • Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is often caused by the uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells in the prostate gland.  Fortunately, if caught early, the chances of remission—defined as the significant decrease or elimination of cancer-related signs and symptoms—are high! For more information on prostate cancer including prevention strategies, diagnostic exams, and risk factors, consider checking out the American Cancer Society
  • Acute bacterial prostatitis: This is a condition that’s caused by a bacterial infection in the prostate gland and is typically cured with antibiotics. 
  • Chronic bacterial prostatitis: Similar to acute bacterial prostatitis, this condition is caused by a recurring bacterial infection, and may need long term antibiotics, as it’s typically harder to treat. 
  • Prostatitis: Also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome, prostatitis is classified in two different ways: acute verses chronic, and infectious versus inflammation. The causes of prostatitis can vary depending on the classification. This can therefore cause treatment to vary as well depending on the specific diagnosis. 

The good news is, there are some prevention strategies you may choose to take to reduce the risk of some of these conditions and improve general prostate health. They include: 

  • Eating a well-balanced diet and hydrating: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Following a Mediterranean diet-- which includes berries, broccoli, citrus, nuts, tomatoes, and turmeric--may also benefit prostate health. Hydration is also vital for prostate health. 
  • Exercising regularly: The health benefits of regular physical activity have been well established. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Frequent movement supports prostate health and overall health. 
  • Maintaining a normal blood pressure reading: Some studies have shown that high blood pressure (hypertension) may be associated with the increased risk of prostate cancer. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). A healthy blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. The American Heart Association defines high blood pressure as a reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher. 
  • Refraining from smoking: Smoking cigarettes has been associated with the risk of more aggressive prostate cancer and is also a risk factor in many health conditions. Smoking negatively impacts prostate health and overall health. 

Hopefully, this information was helpful and has provided you with new insights on prostate health! For more information on prostate conditions or overall prostate health, consider talking with your health care provider. 

Last updated Sep 01, 2023
Originally published May 01, 1994

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