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Men with Prostate Cancer more Likely to Die from Other Causes

Update Date: Jul 26, 2012 01:31 PM EDT

According to a team of Harvard researchers, men diagnosed with prostate cancer are less likely to die from the disease than from largely preventable conditions such as heart disease.

The study was published on July 25, 2012 in the Advance Access online Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This is the largest study to focus on causes of death among men with prostate cancer, and suggests that encouraging healthy lifestyle changes should play an important role in prostate cancer management. The researchers examined causes of death among prostate cancer cases recorded for 490,000 U.S. men from 1973 to 2008 over 210,000 Swedish men from 1961 to 2008.

First author Mara Epstein said the results are relevant for several million men living with prostate cancer in the United States.

"We hope this study will encourage physicians to use a prostate cancer diagnosis as a teachable moment to encourage a healthier lifestyle, which could improve the overall health of men with prostate cancer, increasing both the duration and quality of their life," Epstein said.

Researchers found that during the study period, prostate cancer accounted for 52 percent of all reported deaths in Sweden and 30 percent of reported deaths in the United States among men with prostate cancer, but only 35 percent of Swedish men and 16 percent of U.S. men diagnosed with prostate cancer died from this disease.

In both populations, the risk of prostate cancer-specific death declined, while the risk of death from heart disease and non-prostate cancer remained constant..

Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer, affecting one in six men during their lifetime. But, the likelihood that a newly diagnosed man in the U.S. and other western countries will die from the disease has declined. The researchers attribute this to the widespread use of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which has resulted in a higher proportion of men diagnosed with lower-risk forms of the disease.

"Our study shows that lifestyle changes such as losing weight, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking, may indeed have a greater impact on patients' survival than the treatment they receive for their prostate cancer," said senior author Hans-Olov Adami, professor of epidemiology at HSPH.

Prostate cancer is the most common cause of death from cancer in men over age 75. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than 40. People who are at higher risk include African-American men, who are also likely to develop cancer at every age, men who are older than 60, men who have a father or brother with prostate cancer and men who use too much alcohol. 

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