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Prostate Cancer

Ideas about causes of prostate cancer

Although the causes of prostate cancer are unknown some factors seem to be associated with a slight increase in the likelihood of developing the disease. These are;

  • age (the disease is common among elderly men),
  • ethnic group (for example black African and black Caribbean men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and Asian men have a lower risk of developing it),
  • having relatives who have had prostate cancer, and
  • eating a diet high in animal fat, protein or calcium.

Some men we interviewed saw prostate cancer as just part of 'old age' or 'just one of those things' although there may have been some confusion with other more common prostate problems such as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Men we interviewed suggested a variety of possible causes and often made the point that more than one factor is probably involved. Many believed that genetic factors were important. One man who thought that prostate cancer was inherited from family members, also felt that he was somehow responsible for any disease he had.

 

Comments on the factor of 'old age' causing prostate cancer.

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Comments on the factor of 'old age' causing prostate cancer.

Age at interview: 68
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 67
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Have you ever thought what might have caused it all in the first place?

Old age I always assumed because everybody says that when men get past 55 most of them tend to have prostate problems. Why it should become cancerous I wouldn't know but certainly the very fact that there isn't any other cancer in the body it's obviously a localised thing to do with prostates and I've just left it at that. But I do think it's old age.
 

 

Considers that cancer is 'one of those things'.

Considers that cancer is 'one of those things'.

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Have you ever thought about what might have caused the problem in the first place?

Well no I haven't really, no, because there's so many people get it, there's about 10-15,000 people, chaps a year die from it that I've read about. It's just one of those things, for some reason the prostate grows and causes pressure on the 'you know' and it's one of those things.

 

Comments that he sincerely hopes a cure is found.

Comments that he sincerely hopes a cure is found.

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 55
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Have you ever thought about what causes cancer, do you think certain groups are more vulnerable than others or, has it ever crossed your mind?

I would love to know - I haven't got a clue - the only information we've gleaned of any substance is that it does seem to go to some extent in families. I would suspect that my father has had problems in that direction, I'm sure he has but as he's an older man he's probably very wisely not taking it any further and I sincerely hope that by the time my son might get into vulnerable years there's a cure been found. But I've no idea whatsoever whether it was my diet or whether, whatever it was, I haven't any idea at all. I'd love to know if there is any information that comes out, if anyone ever discovers.

 

Considers that there is a substantial genetic component.

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Considers that there is a substantial genetic component.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 57
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I'm quite confident that there is a very substantial genetic component I really do think that - yeah I think so. I mean one of the things that's been a bit of a consolation to me is that I just feel very lucky to be alive because my father died at 47 and I saw him go down and I'm a lot older than he was and I've had a chance to see my son grow up and things like that.

 

Raises the possibility of gene therapy and the impact of diet.

Raises the possibility of gene therapy and the impact of diet.

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 66
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Have you ever thought about what might cause prostate cancer, do you think some men are more vulnerable than others?

Well it is, the evidence now is coming up that it's in the genes in a lot of cases. I saw the programme - Professor Winston - on television the night before last I think it was, he was on about cancer and they found that people in Iceland, the population of Iceland is so small that when they traced their ancestry back they found they was related to about 9 people that had originally colonised Iceland, and when they went through the genes they found that all of them going way back, hundreds of years had this gene which causes cancer. And they was talking about gene therapy in years to come they can manipulate genes successfully they can remove that gene like that they can with many other diseases and it will cut it out. But diet is supposed to be one of the worst things because they found that in Japan prostate cancer is just about unknown because their diet consists of nothing else but oily fish and rice and stuff like that whereas we have animal fats and things that are detrimental to our health. They think that prostate cancer is caused by diet because they're relating the two diets and they're entirely different, so they think it might be the diet.

 

Admits that in some ways he blames himself for the cancer.

Admits that in some ways he blames himself for the cancer.

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So how do you feel in yourself now about the whole situation?

Well I basically I come from a strange family where we blame ourselves for being, having some illness and there's always been... I mean it's your fault if you're ill. And I try to think back, when it started I racked my brains saying 'Where, what have I done wrong to do this, what have I done?'And it's like high blood pressure, I have slightly high blood pressure but not bad, I mean it's pretty controlled for my age. I take pills but I take a minimum dose, one pill a day and I've taken this for 20 years and I've always said 'Why should I have high blood pressure?' I mean I'm not fat, I'm not obese, yes I've got a slight paunch but that's my age you get a slight paunch, most people do unless you have a rigorous fitness programme but I don't have a fitness programme at all.

So why do you think you blame yourself for illness?

Oh that's a sort of I would say... that is the slightly Prussian tradition, I'm an immigrant here, I'm very happy here and I don't feel like a Prussian but just some of these upbringing things stay with you. And it's always been a slightly embarrassing to be ill and you shouldn't be ill and my children are the same, they feel annoyed and I don't think I instilled this into them but it must be sort of in the family background. I mean it's passed on verbally of course and not by attitudes, it's [self-blame] not inherited.

Elements of diet, especially dairy produce and meat, were often mentioned as a possible cause of prostate cancer and so was 'stress'. Other ideas about the causes of prostate cancer included vigorous sports or high levels of sexual activity, vasectomies*, exposure to chemicals, and electromagnetic emissions.

 

Discusses the possibility that dairy produce is a cause of prostate cancer.

Discusses the possibility that dairy produce is a cause of prostate cancer.

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 59
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We were talking about causes of cancer and diet in the western world.

I was saying about the book I read where the lady was convinced that dairy produce was the cause of it. She'd done a lot of research in countries where they didn't have dairy products, specifically products from cows and there was very little incidence of breast cancer or prostate cancer and she came back, she'd had in fact 5 lots of breast cancer which had been treated normally, she had her sixth lot which she then decided to treat by cutting out all dairy products and the tumour mysteriously disappeared. So she became convinced that dairy produce was the answer and I must admit I did cut down quite considerably on dairy produce although I haven't cut it out entirely. I know you can exist without dairy produce but I find that it affects your lifestyle again to the extent that I wasn't prepared to go. I think it was a conscious decision, I started having things like soya spreads and stuff which I didn't like, soya milk which I didn't like and so I went back onto having a small amount of milk and things like that. But it's something that, I certainly cut down on the amount of diary produce as a result of reading that research.

 

Comments that although he eats healthily he wishes he had paid more attention to diet.

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Comments that although he eats healthily he wishes he had paid more attention to diet.

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 56
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Have you ever thought about what might have caused it in the first place, did that ever come into your head at all?

No I don't think it has really. I'm conscious now that there are, although I don't think any of the actual medical doctors and consultants I've seen have endorsed it, there are a lot of people who will suggest that diet and other factors may have an influence and I am probably sorry that I didn't take a bit more notice of that. Although having said that for many years I've eaten in a way which I believe is healthy. I wasn't aware of the sort of deeper aspects of dietary prevention, if indeed that's possible, like for example not eating dairy produce which I now understand may be thought to be an influence. But for many years I haven't really eaten very much red meat, I've tended to have a reasonably high fibre diet and and so I think I've eaten pretty healthily, and I've always had a pretty healthy lifestyle.

 

Believes that stress is a trigger.

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Believes that stress is a trigger.

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 65
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Have you ever thought about whether some people or some men are more susceptible to prostate cancer or not, or thought about causes?

No I did ask or at least my wife asked the consultant whether it could be stress related and of course he wasn't able to say yes it was although he did say 'Well you know there is a possibility.' My own belief is that it is stress related. I think that there's things that can trigger it off, not just what I have but other things as well - yes, I believe that.

 

Discusses the likelihood of imbalance of diet and stress in those with cancer.

Discusses the likelihood of imbalance of diet and stress in those with cancer.

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 59
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I believe that most serious illnesses are caused by diet and stress and I think an imbalance of diet and stress can cause most things and I think that most cancers are brought on by stress. Nearly everybody I've known who's had cancer has had some form of stress.

 

Considers the relationship between regular exercise, testosterone levels and prostate cancer.

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Considers the relationship between regular exercise, testosterone levels and prostate cancer.

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 63
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Well my thought is, is testosterone, the exercise and the things perhaps that guys do generating testosterone, could be that be the reason that the tumour develops at the rate of which the tumour develops because if it's testosterone fed and you're producing more than average testosterone is that the case? I don't know, that one has only recently come to mind and it was only because I read an article on the production of testosterone and the things that can produce it and it would seem that athletes, I'm not an athlete but I like to run, people who swim regularly, people who ride bikes that sort of activity produces what's seen to be a healthy body and a very healthy supply of testosterone.
 

 

Considers the effect of his work and personal life on prostate cancer.

Considers the effect of his work and personal life on prostate cancer.

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 54
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When I was first told I was a painter and decorator and I used to do spraying and all different kinds of work and I used to use different thinners and catalysts and stuff like that you know and I used, and at first I thought may be I got that by using these things, getting through my skin and that. But that's only my theory, that's just something that I thought about. But when you read up about it, there's lots and lots of people get it, I think it's just something that happens.

Is there any history of it in your family?

Well no, no my father died of leukaemia but it's just not connected at all. I spoke to the surgeon about that and he said no there's no connection. I also played football, I was a goalkeeper and I thought may be getting knocked about a bit round the stomach had something to do with it but no, no, according to the surgeon and them it's not, it had nothing to do with that.

 

Comments that grief in his personal life and working with electronics may have had some effect.

Comments that grief in his personal life and working with electronics may have had some effect.

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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Yes, yes I've worked all my life with electronic equipment which emits a large amounts of electro static and electro magnetic emissions from it which I suspect may be a cause. And also back in 92 when my daughter died that affected me very, very deeply indeed and I think there possibly comes a time in your life when something like that happens you become very, very vulnerable to something going wrong in your body, in your system, your immune system may be doesn't may be work as well as what it should do or it doesn't pick up a rogue cancer cell here and there which it normally should. And I think a combination of the two looking back now is possibly what caused my illness, but that's only a theory, I can't prove any of that.

* There have been a number of studies about whether having a vasectomy increases the risk of developing prostate cancer. Most doctors believe that having a vasectomy has no effect on the risk of prostate cancer or that, if it does increase the risk, the effect of this is quite small. For more information on these studies see NHS Choices - Vasectomy-associated prostate cancer risk 'small' July 2014.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated July 2017.

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