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Early Prostate Cancer

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John, a 55-year-old executive, felt numb, confused, lonely, and distressed. Questions swirled around in his mind.

John, a 55-year-old executive, felt numb, confused, lonely, and distressed. Questions swirled around in his mind. How would he tell his family and close friends that he had just been diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer? The series of events leading to this pivotal moment became strikingly clear in his mind.

A routine exam with his family doctor raised some suspicions as his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) score had suddenly increased from a normal value of 3.5 to an abnormal one of 4.3. “Wasn’t this still close to the normal values for PSA? Why should I worry about such a small increase?” he asked his physician. His doctor replied that, although his PSA score was slightly elevated, zero to four nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) is the normal range, it was the sudden rise in the PSA score over 12 months that was the basis for his concern. The family doctor referred John to an urologist, who, after reviewing his case, strongly recommended that he undergo a transrectal ultrasound and a biopsy of the prostate.

Three weeks later, at the follow up visit, the urologist told John that although he had prostate cancer, the pathology report revealed a fairly low Gleason score of three. The Gleason number, the urologist explained, indicates how aggressive the cancer is. The higher the number (on a scale of one to 10), the more aggressive the cancer is. Moreover, although John had early stage prostate cancer, it had not developed outside the prostate or spread to the lymph nodes.

The urologist suggested to John that they wait and monitor the progress of the early stage cancer. If the cancer worsened, the urologist noted, they could discuss other treatment options including surgical removal of the prostate (radical prostatectomy), radiation therapy, or hormonal treatment. Despite his mixed feelings at the time, John was determined to help himself and start treating his early stage prostate cancer through specific natural supplements and dietary changes.

The Red Zone

Lycopene is the carotenoid primarily responsible for the red colouring we see in tomatoes and watermelons. Although it is recommended that regular consumption - at least three servings a week - of these lycopene-rich foods will lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, does the medical research support their use during active prostate cancer?

The answer is yes, according to a study from the Division of Hematology and Oncology of Wayne State University in Detroit. Three weeks prior to radical prostatectomy, 26 men were randomly assigned to receive 30 mg of a concentrated lycopene supplement per day. The researchers determined that those men taking the supplement not only had lower PSA scores than the control subjects, but also exhibited smaller tumour size and reduced development of the cancer. Recent research also shows that lycopene is useful in connection with the treatment of more advanced-stage metastatic prostate cancers. In one study, the addition of four mg of lycopene per day for two years along with surgical removal of the testicles not only produced a more consistent reduction in PSA but also shrank the primary and secondary tumours, providing better relief from the symptoms of bone pain and improving overall survival rate when compared to the control group alone. These studies strongly suggest that lycopene is a potentially powerful ad unctive therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer.

Essential Fatty Acids, Flax Seed, and a Low-Fat Diet

Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, decided to investigate an interesting premise: Does the addition of dietary flax seed along with a fat-restricted diet affect biological markers for prostate cancer? Twenty-five prostate cancer patients scheduled for radical prostatectomy took 30 g of flax seed per day and adhered to a low-fat diet (20 per cent or less of total dietary calories). After one month on the program, the patients showed significant reductions in both total cholesterol and total blood levels of the hormone testosterone. Blocking androgens like testosterone may slow down active prostate cancer cell growth. Moreover, while overall PSA values did not decrease, those men with a Gleason score of six or less did have a reduction in PSA values from 7.1 to 6.4 ng/ml.

In a similar study, patients with untreated prostate cancer were given a low-fat diet plus a fish-oil supplement rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids for three months. Patients following this program showed reduced production of a chemical associated with cancer cells known as cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2). Cancer cells tend to produce large amounts of COX-2, which, in turn, acts as a fuel for further cancer growth. Researchers believe that by blocking the COX-2, they can restrict the development of prostate cancer cells.

Red Clover Isoflavones: Help or Hype?

Scientists have long speculated that dietary isoflavones may help in the treatment and/or prevention of prostate cancer. A recent study from the Centre for Urological Research in Australia has confirmed this concept. Twenty men diagnosed with prostate cancer and waiting for radical prostatectomy surgery were given 160 mg per day of isoflavones from red clover. In the tissues of those with a Gleason score of one to three who took the herbal extract, researchers found that there was increased apoptosis, i.e., cancer cell death, compared to the control subjects.

Although test-tube research supports the contention that genistein, one of the naturally occurring isoflavones found in soy, may work as well as red clover isoflavones in inducing apoptosis in prostate cancer cells, human studies have not yet confirmed this. In fact, soy supplementation in healthy middle-aged men did not decrease PSA levels after three months of therapy.

What About Selenium and Vitamin E?

Groundbreaking research has shown that selenium supplementation, at a dose of 200 mcg per day, is associated with a 63-percent reduction in the incidence of prostate cancer. Although selenium is primarily touted as a preventive agent in prostate cancer (especially in men with a PSA of less than four ng/ml), it does promote apoptosis and other cancer-fighting effects at the cellular level. Vitamin E, especially d-alpha tocopheryl succinate, has been shown to interfere both with the cellular growth cycle and PSA expression in prostate cancer cells.

Natural Products Provide Additional Hope

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, approximately 362 Canadian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every week of the year. In 2003, 4,200 men died of prostate cancer. Despite these grim statistics, research has shown that the adjunctive use of natural products and specific dietary changes can help fight this dreaded disease.

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