In the U.S., more than 220,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Of those, nearly 30,000 will die from the disease. Some risk factors for prostate cancer—such as your family history or your race—can’t be controlled. Wilmot Cancer Institute nutrition specialist Joanna Lipp shares some things you can do that may reduce your risk of having prostate cancer.
1. If you’re obese or overweight, lose weight and get moving! If you’re at a healthy weight now, avoid gaining weight. Being overweight or obese, and sedentary, increases your risk of insulin resistance (chronically high levels of insulin). Researchers think insulin resistance—or other hormones in your blood that rise with insulin resistance—may increase your risk of getting certain cancers or may cause those cancers to grow more quickly. Prostate cancer is one of these cancers, along with breast, ovarian, colon, and kidney cancer.
2. Enjoy a plant-based, whole food diet. Consider cutting down the amount of meat, dairy and refined carbohydrates you eat. Several studies show a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer. There’s also evidence that it slows the progression of the disease or reduces the risk of death from prostate cancer.
One recent study of men with prostate cancer compared a very “western” diet, one with a lot of meat and dairy, with a more plant-based plan. Those who ate a mostly plant-based diet had a lower death rate overall and a slightly lower (but not statistically significant) death rate from prostate cancer. The western diet was associated with a higher death rate overall and specifically a higher death rate from prostate cancer.
In another study, men with prostate cancer who consumed one or less servings of dairy per day had less risk of prostate cancer progression/mortality than those who consumed three or more.
3. Avoid processed meats, such as hot dogs and sausages. Research shows that eating processed foods increases the risk of death from prostate cancer more significantly than any other factor. Turkey or “white meat” hot dogs are not a good replacement for red meat hot dogs; they also have plenty of nitrates and other added chemicals. Also, many lunch meats are processed, such as ham, bologna, chicken loaf, and pepperoni. There's evidence that every ounce of these processed meats can significantly, cumulatively, increase the risk of death from prostate cancer. On the other hand, for the men who followed the more plant-based diet, olive oil and vinegar dressing was one of the things that most contributed to a decrease in risk of death from prostate cancer.
You don’t need to be vegan, but you should move more in that direction. Try having a few meals a week without meat or dairy. In meat’s place, eat more vegetables or consider substituting meat with protein-rich plant sources like beans or legumes. When you do eat meat, try to have more chicken, or choose fish instead, and keep the portion size to about 2 to 6 ounces.
4. Eat more foods with lycopene. Studies suggest that foods higher in lycopene may help prevent prostate cancer, though lycopene taken as a supplement did not show any benefit. Lycopene is found in tomato products, and the more cooked down the tomatoes are, the more concentrated it is—so tomato paste and tomato sauce are excellent sources. It is also present in smaller amounts in other foods, such as raw tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe.
5. Don’t worry about supplements. Nutrition supplements do not appear to help prevent prostate cancer so men are likely to see a greater benefit by eating a healthy diet, according to current research. If you’ve already been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are receiving hormone therapy, there may be some benefits to supplementing your diet with calcium or vitamin D. However, getting these nutrients in your food is the best option.
Joanna Lipp, MS, RD, CNSC, CSO, is a clinical nutrition specialist with UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute. She counsels cancer patients and survivors on nutrition and eating healthfully.