Prostate cancer screening and improved treatment options have helped to ensure that there are more than 3.1 million prostate cancer survivors in the United States. After their prostate cancer diagnosis or finishing treatment, many patients wonder about potential lifestyle changes they may make to help them stay healthy as prostate cancer survivors.

It is quite well known that heart disease is the number one cause of death among men in the United States. What is less well known is that heart disease is also the number one cause of death among men with prostate cancer.

Previous research suggests that the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis can be a “teachable moment” — and much can be gained by using a prostate cancer diagnosis to make lasting healthy lifestyle changes. Recent research also suggests that healthy lifestyle changes can decrease the risk of prostate cancer returning. This article will focus on suggested lifestyle changes or modifications that men should consider once they are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Diet and Nutrition

Eating healthy, nutritious food helps with a man’s overall health, energy, and mood. While going through prostate cancer treatment, the side effects of treatment may decrease your appetite. This means it is important to get the most nutrition from the foods you eat in order to prevent unwanted weight loss and maintain proper health. Here are several diet tips for men with prostate cancer:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables. These contain cancer-fighting and inflammation-reducing substances such as vitamins, polyphenols, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Limit consumption of animal proteins. These include red meat, dairy products, and animal fat.
  • Eat more plant proteins. These include beans, flax, and nuts.
  • Drink green tea. This contains inflammation-fighting antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavonoids, which are compounds that can help to boost heart health.
  • Eat whole greens over processed foods. These include brown rice, oatmeal, corn, whole wheat bread, quinoa, etc. These foods are a source of fiber and magnesium, as well as protein.
  • Limit sugary drinks such as pop/soda.

It’s important to understand that these dietary recommendations have not been shown specifically to have benefits in terms of cancer outcomes. But they are very likely to improve your overall health.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle, particularly after a prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Among many benefits, exercise can boost a man’s fitness, energy, immune system, spirits, and outlook on life. Physical activity does not have to include playing a sport or going to the gym — it could include walking, swimming, dancing, or gardening. Regular exercise can help prevent many health issues such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes, in part because it helps to maintain a healthy weight.

The amount of exercise you feel able to do may depend on several things such as the stage of your cancer, your treatments, and your starting strength and fitness level. It is usually safe for men with prostate cancer and those having treatment to be physically active. However, it is still a good idea to check with your family doctor and/or cancer treatment team.

Generally, aiming to exercise 2-3 times per week to start out is reasonable. This should include 10-15 minutes per session, working up to 30 minutes per session, 3-5 days per week. Specifically, for men on hormone therapy or men whose disease has spread to the bone, it is important to avoid activities where you may fall. This is because you are more likely to break a bone if you fall.

Stop Smoking

Smoking raises the risk of other health problems, including the risk of other cancers (i.e., throat, lung, bladder, etc.). It also slows healing and causes harm to the body (which may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, etc). Importantly, when you stop smoking, the benefit to the body happens nearly right away, including boosting the body’s immune system to help fight cancer. A study from 2011 showed that men who smoke at the time of a prostate cancer diagnosis have an increased risk of death compared to men who did not smoke. Additionally, men who quit smoking for at least 10 years had a similarly reduced risk for prostate cancer-related death compared to men who never smoked.

For men considering surgery for prostate cancer, smoking increases the risks associated with anesthesia and makes recovery more difficult, including increasing your risk of infections.

Decrease Alcohol Intake

The evidence regarding the impact of alcohol on prostate cancer is unclear. However, we do know that too much alcohol can lead to other health concerns including weight gain, heart disease, liver disease, and an increase in the risk of some cancers. Although recommendations may vary (and depend on your general health and other medical problems), it is recommended that men should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This amount of alcohol is equal to 6 pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of wine. It’s also recommended to have some alcohol-free days.

The prostate cancer survivorship journey starts on the day of your diagnosis. Although the time period around your prostate cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up is extremely important from a cancer standpoint, it is equally important to maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle. This will decrease your risk of other health problems, decrease the risk of prostate cancer recurrence (cancer coming back), and improve your mental health and well-being.

Zachary Klaassen, MD, MSc
Urologic Oncologist, Georgia Cancer Center, Augusta University, Augusta, GA, USA