Hormones are chemical messages to the body produced by various glands. The male sex hormones come from the testicles, while the rest of male hormones are produced by the adrenal glands, located just above each kidney. A man's deep voice, muscle mass and sexual function are all dependent on these hormones. And the hormones encourage the growth of normal cells.
But when it comes to cancers, hormones can be a double-edged sword. The male hormones also encourage the growth of cancerous cells in the prostate gland, as well as in other areas of the body where cancer cells might spread as the disease progresses. Hormone therapy can control the rapid growth of cancer cells by reducing the levels of male hormones in the body, preventing the cancer from spreading.
This can be done through medications that block the pituitary gland from making as much male hormone. In more severe cases, the testicles can be removed, causing the hormone levels in the body to plummet. Alternatively, only the insides of the testicles are removed. Not surprisingly, the resulting imbalance of sex hormones can lead to numerous side effects, including impotence, infertility, low sex drive, fatigue, hot flushes, reduced strength, and an increase in body fat.
Many risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age, race and family history. But you can reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer by:
- Eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon are rich in certain antioxidants that help prevent damage to DNA.
- Take vitamin E or selenium supplements, which some studies have shown may reduce prostate cancer risk. But vitamin A could actually increase the risk.
- Certain drugs may also reduce the risk. For instance, finasteride (proscar) prevents the body from making certain cancer-causing male hormones.