World Cancer Day is February 4, and the whole month of February is National Cancer Prevention Month
Remember, cancer doesn't discriminate. Everyone faces a certain level of risk, depending on their genes and heredity. But lifestyle factors can also play a role.
And we're not simply talking about aspects of your lifestyle that you need to stop doing (like smoking). We're also talking about positive lifestyle changes (like eating more tomatoes—more on this in a bit!).
Below, we discuss both areas, including how they relate to urologic cancers, like prostate cancer, bladder cancer, and more. As always, our blog posts are meant to be educational in nature, not medical advice. If you have questions or concerns, always discuss them directly with your doctor.
Anyone who smokes is probably sick of hearing this advice. But the fact remains that smoking increases your risk for cancer.
Most folks probably associate smoking with lung cancer (for good reason, since smoking is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths). But did you know that smoking is the most important risk factor for bladder cancer? It's true. As the American Cancer Society notes, "Smokers are at least 3 times as likely to get bladder cancer as non-smokers. Smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers in both men and women."
When it comes to cancer, early detection is critical. Not all cancers have screenings (for example, bladder cancer doesn't have a standard routine screening; kidney cancer doesn't either). But for those cancers that do have screenings—particularly prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer—you should discuss the guidelines with your physician.
For prostate cancer, screening recommendations may vary, depending upon the organization making them. At GBU, we follow the American Urologic Association (AUA) Guidelines, which support screening in men between the ages of 55-69 and earlier than age 55 for men who are known to be at increased risk for prostate cancer. This includes men with a family history of prostate cancer and African American men who should be screened as early as age 40. Some men over age 70 may benefit from prostate cancer screening if they are in excellent health with a life expectancy of more than 10 years. These men should discuss testing with their physician.
We can appreciate that not all cancer screenings are fun (anyone who's prepped for a colonoscopy can attest to that!). The good news is that prostate cancer screening involves a simple blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.
Remember, early detection can save lives. As ZERO Prostate Cancer points out, "Finding prostate cancer when it is still at an early stage offers the best hope for living cancer free for a long time."
CONSIDER SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF YOUR DIET
OK, we all know we're supposed to eat more greens and less junk food. But sometimes specific foods can help ward off specific cancers.
For example, studies show that consuming more tomatoes "may play a modest role in the prevention of prostate cancer," thanks to the antioxidant in them called lycopene. The National Cancer Institute also discusses a link between consuming soy products and reducing prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
According to Nature, high levels of inorganic arsenic in drinking water can potentially increase a person's risk of developing bladder cancer. So if you live in an area where that's the case (or you're not sure), get your water tested. It's possible to safely remove the arsenic from your water supply (but you need to know it's there first!).
The above isn't an exhaustive list, obviously. Our point is to drill down (and discuss with your doctor) specific foods to eat more of—and to avoid—when trying to ward off specific types of cancer. For example, if you're a guy over 50, you might want to increase foods rich in lycopene.
Pay attention to your body. You know your body better than anyone. If you notice any changes, don't chalk it up to something like "Well, I'm growing older." For example, as men age, they might experience urinary issues—going too much or going too urgently. Sure, it might just be your prostate acting up, but it's always good to rule out more serious things, like prostate cancer.
Given the nature of urology, any urinary changes you experience—whether you're a man or woman—should be discussed with your doctor. Sure, there are plenty of benign causes. But early detection of cancers provides the best outcomes.
If something's off, speak up. And be honest! We know making those calls to a doctor can be nerve-wracking. And depending on the nature of your symptoms, you might feel uncomfortable talking about them. Doctors are trained to deal with these "hard conversations." (Trust us—there's not much you could say that will surprise or shock our doctors.)
Pay attention to your environment. Certain occupational/environmental issues can increase your risk for certain cancers. We mentioned inorganic arsenic above and its relation to bladder cancer. Firefighters also are at greater risk for developing bladder cancer. Hair stylists as well.
As the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network notes, "The exact causes remain unknown, but risk factors for contracting bladder cancer include exposure to carcinogens in the environment. Firefighters, other first responders, and workers in the rubber, chemical and leather industries are at risk, as are hairdressers, machinists, metal workers, painters, textile workers."
So for people who work in these professions, pay attention to any changes in urination—or whether you see blood in your urine (hematuria). As BCAN states, "The most common symptom [of bladder cancer] is blood in the urine. Other symptoms include irritation when urinating, urgency, and frequency of urination. These are also common symptoms of a urinary tract infection. If you have any of these symptoms, go see your doctor."
With kidney cancer, "Exposure to asbestos and/or cadmium (a type of metal used in the production of batteries, plastics, and other industrial processes) may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer."
BOTTOM LINE: WHEN IN DOUBT, REACH OUT.
If you have questions about your cancer risk or if you have symptoms that are concerning you, talk to your doctor. Need a urologist? Check out our doctors and make an appointment at Greater Boston Urology soon!