Expert Voices

Prostate Cancer in Young Men: What You Should Know

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Dr. Troy Sukkarieh is a board-certified urologic surgeon specializing in robotic and advanced laparoscopic surgery. He is on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, N.J. Sukkarieh has authored numerous manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals and has delivered podium presentations on topics related to urology at several international summits. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

The number of younger men diagnosed with prostate cancer has increased nearly sixfold in the last 20 years. If you are below the age of 50, here are five things you should know about this dangerous trend.

1. Prostate cancer in younger men is more aggressive, and therefore more life-threatening, than in older men. Historically, prostate cancer has affected mostly men in their 70s or 80s, and their cancers have been slow-growing. In fact, many older men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer eventually die from other causes. Younger men don't routinely undergo prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and rectal exams until the recommended age of about 50 years old. This common cancer in men usually has no physical symptoms in its earlier stages. As a result, if aggressive prostate cancer is eventually diagnosed in men younger than 55, it has often already progressed to a later-stage cancer and is therefore more difficult to treat.

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2. Men with a family history of prostate cancer need to be vigilant with their screenings. Another cause for the diagnosis in younger men is simple genetics. If you have a family history of prostate cancer (father, brother, uncle or grandfather), talk to your primary care physician about when you should begin getting screenings . Males with a family history have a risk that's two to three times higher than the general population, which increases further with multiple affected relatives. 

3. Watch what you eat. More than two-dozen studies have shown that the more red meat a man eats, the higher his risk of developing prostate cancer. But that's not all ─ fried and processed foods, saturated animal fats and a diet high in dairy increase and may even accelerate the progression of the cancer. Like other serious diseases, obesity is also an added risk contributor. [Cancer-Fighting Diet: 6 Tips to Reduce Your Risk

4. If you have prostate cancer, talk with your oncologist about all treatment options available and which might be best for you. The question of whether younger men with this type of cancer should have surgery right away, or if they should wait to see how it progresses, has been controversial. While prostate cancer is often slow to progress in older men, surgery can have significant side effects — such as the possibility of lifelong erectile dysfunction or chronic urinary incontinence. For men in their 30s or 40s, this can be a difficult decision. Make sure you discuss your options and all possible side effects with your doctor.

5. Go for your annual checkups. Every year, I am seeing more male patients who are committed to living a healthy lifestyle and who are taking the time to undergo the necessary screenings in order to stave off cancer and other serious medical conditions. Today, prostate cancer is a highly treatable disease, particularly in its earlier stages. If you are over age 40, speak with your doctor about your personal risk factors and determine if PSA testing is appropriate for you. [Facts About Prostate Cancer (Infographic )]

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CentraState Medical Center in Freehold