Think advances in treatment mean prostate cancer is no longer a big deal? Think again. The disease remains the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung cancer. Last year alone, it was projected to strike 218,000 men and kill more than 32,000, according to the American Cancer Society.
Yet despite its deadly toll, many men - and the women who love them - are in the dark about prostate cancer. Keep reading as Dr. Herbert Lepor - director of the Smilow Comprehensive Prostate Cancer Center at New York University Langone Medical Center - explodes nine all-too-common misconceptions about prostate cancer.
Myth: No Symptoms Means No Cancer
Prostate cancer can cause various urinary symptoms, including urgency and a diminished stream, as well as pain in the back. But symptoms typically don't appear until the cancer has reached an advanced stage - at which point effective treatment may be difficult. Men shouldn't assume that the absence of symptoms means no cancer.
Myth: If Dad Had It, Son Will Too
Having a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) with prostate cancer definitely increases a man's risk of developing the disease. In fact, a man with three first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with the disease faces a roughly 50-50 chance of having cancer himself, according to Dr. Lepor. But some men with a strong family history of prostate cancer remain cancer-free.
Myth: Only Old Men Get Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is more common in older men, but young men can get it too. In fact, men can develop the disease in their forties or even their thirties, says Dr. Lepor. That's why it's a good idea for men to be screened for the disease starting at age 50. Screening beginning at age 40 is recommended for men at high risk for the disease, including African-Americans and those with a family history of the disease.
Myth: Supplements Can Prevent Prostate Cancer
Not long ago, doctors were excited by studies suggesting that certain nutritional supplements - notably the mineral selenium and vitamin E - could cut the risk for prostate cancer. But more recent - and more rigorous - research failed to confirm those findings. Says Dr. Lepor, there's no convincing evidence that nutritional supplements can cut a man's prostate cancer risk.
Myth: Pomegranate Juice Knocks Out Prostate Cancer Cells
Pomegranate juice has been shown to kill prostate cancer cells - in a test tube. But there's little reason to think that the juice has the the same effect inside a man's body.
"If you are at high risk for the disease, you could try it," Dr. Lepor says of pomegranate juice. "But try it without a false sense of expectation."
In any case, he says, the juice should be considered a complement to conventional treatments - not a substitute.
Myth: Vasectomy Causes Prostate Cancer
At least one recent study seemed to indicate that prostate cancer is more common among men who have undergone vasectomy. But subsequent research disproved that finding, Dr. Lepor says.
Myth: Infrequent Sex Turns the Prostate Cancerous
"There is no evidence that your sexual frequency is related to your risk for prostate cancer," says Dr. Lepor. Frequent sex, infrequent sex - it doesn't make any difference to a man's risk level.
Myth: Prostate Cancer Is Infectious
Can prostate cancer be caused by an infection? There's no evidence of that, says Dr. Lepor. Nor is there any evidence that prostate cancer is caused by smoking, heavy drinking, a sedentary lifestyle, eating lots of fatty food, or any other lifestyle factor.
Myth: New Scans Make Biopsies Obsolete
Someday, MRI or ultrasound exams may make biopsies obsolete - or at least much less common. But not yet. As of now, says Dr. Lepor, biopsy remains the only reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer.