Doctor explains four foods to eat to prevent prostate cancer - and one to avoid

Prostate cancer cell, coloured scanning electron micrograph. Diet can be a key factor in avoiding getting the killer disease
Prostate cancer cell, coloured scanning electron micrograph. Diet can be a key factor in avoiding getting the killer disease, doctors say -Credit:Getty

What you eat can have a big impact on whether you will get prostate cancer, according to one expert. Cases of the potentially lethal disease are set to double between 2020 and 2040 with deaths around the world hitting 700,000 a year.

The charity Prostate Cancer UK reports there are about 13,000 deaths and 50,000 cases of the disease each year in Britain. Researchers at the Lancet Commission on Prostate Cancer estimated that cases in Britain would rise to 75,066 yearly by 2040 if incidence rates stayed the same.

One of the key factors in getting prostate cancer is age - being over 50 increases the chances, as does a family history of it. However there are other lifestyle changes or public health interventions which can make a difference. It is especially in the news as former American Footballer and actor OJ Simpson died from prostate cancer, it was announced yesterday.

From a food perspective there are some things to definitely avoid - according to experts - and also plenty to make sure you eat, the Times reported.

Dr William Li, a Harvard-trained medical doctor and vascular biologist, said people should avoid bacon and barbecued meat for starters. This is because there is an increased risk of prostate cancer from saturated fats.

Dr Li said these fats are: “primarily coming from red meats, particularly meats that have been charred. The char that we see in barbecued meats, well-done meats, contains a chemical called a heterocyclic amine, HCA.” These are the by-products of cooking meat well-done. “If we eat a roast that ends up having a char, if you grill a steak that winds up having a nice char to it, those are HCAs, they are carcinogens.”

The World Health Organisation recognises processed meats as a carcinogen as well, and overconsumption has cancer-promoting risks. “These are clearly associated with increased risks of prostate cancer,” he says. “We’re only just now having a societal epiphany that we should cut down on the amount of meat we eat and switch to a more whole foods plant-forward diet.”

There are some food groups people should eat more of, however, with nuts and soya being of benefit. A study of 47,000 men found that those who consumed a third of a cup of nuts five times a week had a 34 per cent lower risk of mortality from prostate cancer. Dr Li said: “We know that soya lowers the risk of breast cancer in women — but there’s data now that consuming soya actually lowers the risk of prostate cancer as well.” That’s because soya includes bioactives that tackle the microenvironment of cancer, he says. Studies from China on tofu and soy milk found “consuming of these reduced risk of prostate cancer a startlingly 40-70 per cent”.

Oranges and broccoli are also good to eat, with citrus fruit consumption linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Dr Li said: “A hundred grams a day of citrus fruit [a small orange] has been associated with a decreased prostate cancer risk by 12 per cent,” says Li, citing a study of 42,000 men in Europe, followed for 14 years. Another study of 29,000 men showed that consuming broccoli — “just one cup a week,” Li says — was associated with decreased risk of the spread of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is a major cause of death and disability, accounting for 15% of all male cancers. In the UK it is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men and the most common form of male cancer in more than half of the world’s countries.

Nick James, lead author of the commission, Professor of prostate and bladder cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “As more and more men around the world live to middle and old age, there will be an inevitable rise in the number of prostate cancer cases. We know this surge in cases is coming, so we need to start planning and take action now.

“Evidence-based interventions, such as improved early detection and education programmes, will help to save lives and prevent ill health from prostate cancer in the years to come. This is especially true for low- and middle-income countries which will bear the overwhelming brunt of future cases.”

In HICs, screening for prostate cancer often involves the PSA test, a blood test that measures levels of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The current approach to prostate cancer diagnosis in the UK and many other HICs relies on “informed choice” PSA testing.

Men aged 50 or over with no symptoms can request a PSA test from their doctor after a discussion of the risks and benefits.