Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Obesity and prostate cancer

On call

Obesity and prostate cancer

Q. Your newsletter convinced me that obesity increases the risk of prostate cancer. It depresses me a bit, since I'm overweight, so my question is both personal and practical: If I lose weight, will I undo the harm?

A. You are not alone in being concerned, since obesity is a big problem in the United States and in much of the world. But a 2007 study may lift your spirits. Researchers evaluated body mass index (BMI) and prostate cancer in 69,991 men who were enrolled in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. Confirming other studies, they found that obesity was associated with an increased risk of aggressive, widespread, and fatal prostate cancers. But there's good news, too. Compared to men who held their weight steady, men who lost weight enjoyed a 42% lower risk of being diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer.

Weight loss may help reduce your risk of prostate cancer, and it will also help protect you from a host of problems, from coronary artery disease and hypertension to diabetes and erectile dysfunction. But losing weight is easier said than done. The best way is to adopt a healthy lifestyle for the long term instead of buying into a crash diet. The key is to burn up more calories with exercise than you take in with food. And in addition to cutting calories, your diet should be prostate — and heart — friendly. That means reducing saturated fat and trans fat, keeping your calcium intake moderate (1,000–1,200 mg a day), and eating lots of fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (especially for the prostate, cooked tomatoes). Judicious supplements of selenium and vitamin D may help your prostate, if not your heart or your waistline.

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