What lifestyle changes can help me avoid prostate cancer?

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I don’t have a family history of prostate cancer, but I still want to lower my risk. Are there daily lifestyle changes I should adopt to help?

A. If men live long enough, most will develop cancer cells in their prostate gland. About 80% of men ages 80 and older live with some prostate cancer.

However, only a small percentage will develop an aggressive form of cancer that affects their quality of life and longevity. Therefore, the more important questions are what lifestyle changes might delay the onset of prostate cancer and decrease the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer. Here are three areas that observational studies have found may help.

Diet. Research has shown that the same types of diets associated with better heart and brain health are linked to a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. In a study published in the March 2022 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers who followed 47,239 men over 28 years found that men who reported eating primarily a plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean or DASH diets, had a significantly lower risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. Other studies have shown following these healthier diets also may lower the odds of dying from prostate cancer. While this benefit might be related to the high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in fish (a staple of the Mediterranean and DASH diets), taking a fish oil supplement has not been shown to reduce prostate cancer risk.

What you don’t eat also matters. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity is linked to a lower chance of developing advanced prostate cancer. Also, limiting meat and added sugars may be good for prostate health.

Exercise. Some evidence suggests that regular exercise can lower a man’s likelihood of getting prostate cancer. In 2019, Harvard researchers published findings that showed men who engaged most frequently in vigorous activity had a 30% lower risk of developing advanced prostate cancer and a 25% lower risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with men who exercised the least.

Ejaculation frequency. Men who ejaculate frequently appear to have a lower risk of prostate cancer. According to one long-running large study, men who ejaculated more than 21 times per month had a 20% lower prostate cancer risk than those who ejaculated four to seven times monthly. It’s not clear why frequent ejaculation is protective. Some experts believe the release of semen flushes harmful substances from the prostate. However, this study did not address the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

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