By Angeline Kado
A report on prostate diseases by the Harvard Medical School has identified age, diet, nationality, race, ejaculation frequency and family history as some of the risk factors that increase the odds of getting prostate cancer.
While the report dubbed-2019 Annual Report on Prostate Diseases– acknowledges that the precise cause of prostate cancer might not be completely clear; it goes ahead to state that genetic defects as well as environmental carcinogens that cause DNA damage, play a role in the development of any cancer.
According to the report published byHarvard Health Publishingin 2019, defects in the BRCA1 as well as BRCA2 genes -which usually repair DNA damage and which are known to boost the risk of breast and ovarian cancer- have been linked to aggressive and hard-to-treat prostate cancers that mostly affect younger men.
When the BCRA genes are defective, DNA damage can accumulate inside cells that in turn, grow abnormally and form tumours.
According to the report, scientists published the results of a study, carried out in 2015, which showed about a quarter of all men who have prostate cancer have defects in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 or in both genes.
However, a later study in 2016 found that 84 inherited mutations affecting 16 different DNA repair genes could potentially be involved, although men with metastatic prostate cancer would likely just have one or just a few of these.
Other genetic defects associated with prostate cancer occur in the ATM gene that ordinarily helps to regulate cell growth, as well as in the HOXB13 gene, which usually plays a role in prostate development.
The so-called mismatch repair genes, which are known to repair DNA errors that allow cancer cells to survive for unusually long durations and to resist chemotherapy, is associated with prostate cancer.
The Annual report further states that while the causes of most prostate cancers remain elusive; countless studies carried out have identified some characteristics that have been found to increase the odds of one getting the disease.
According to the report, data provided by theNational Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results(SEER) shows that while the risk of prostate cancer goes up with age, about 90 per cent of cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 55 with the median age standing at 66.
However, this number decreases in men aged 75 and older, partially because men of that age are not screened for prostate cancer as often.
As the report puts it, prostate cancer runs in families. This means that men with male family members with prostate cancer 2 to 3 times more likely to have prostate cancer or to develop it in future, than those with no male relatives with the disease.
If two or more first-degree relatives have a history of the disease, the risk rises to 5 to 10 times greater than for men with no affected first-degree relatives.
With the report basing its findings on studies carried out in the US, it states that African-American men have the highest prostate cancer incidence and death rates of any other group.
The incidence of this type of cancer in African American men stand at 70 per cent higher than it is among white men; while the death rate for the disease for African American men stands at more than double the rate as is with their white counterparts.
While the 2019 annual report acknowledges that prostate cancer incidence varies greatly among countries, some of the highest rates are in Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe, Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. The lowest rates are in South Central Asia and Northern Africa.
According to the report, men who consume a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer.
A more recent study in 2016 linked diets high in saturated fats to more aggressive prostate cancers; while a 2017 study found that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish are protective against prostate cancers.
In 2015, Harvard researchers reported that men who ejaculate frequently have a lower risk of prostate cancer, in a large ongoing study, men between the ages of 20 to 29 and between 40 to 49 who ejaculated more than 21 times a month had a 20 per cent lower prostate cancer risk than those who ejaculated 4 to 7 times a month.
While researchers have examined other factors that might also be contributors to the risk factors of developing prostate cancer including; prostatitis, sexually transmitted diseases and vasectomy, 2019 Annual Harvard Report states that the study found these have been inconsistent and so far bear no firm conclusion.