Medical News Today: Can drinking alcohol lead to prostate cancer?

Some scientists have identified possible links between alcohol intake and the risk of prostate cancer. However, more research is necessary to determine how drinking alcohol and prostate cancer might correlate.

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system, and it sits just below the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, which is a tube that carries urine out of the body, and helps make semen.

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States.

In this article, we cover the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of prostate cancer and consider its possible links with alcohol consumption.

Can alcohol cause prostate cancer?

Person pouring beer from tap into beer glass
There is no known link between alcohol and prostate cancer.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, there is no direct link between drinking alcohol and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Similarly, the American Cancer Society do not list alcohol as one of the known risk factors for prostate cancer.

A 2016 review concluded that men who consume alcohol might have a higher risk of developing the disease than those who abstain, with the risk increasing in line with alcohol intake. However, the review included data from men reporting on their own consumption, which may not be reliable.

The results of a 2018 study indicate that there is a link between a person's alcohol consumption earlier in life and their risk of developing prostate cancer at a later date. However, this study, which recruited men requiring a prostate biopsy, found no link between current alcohol consumption and prostate cancer risk.

In both of these studies, the researchers highlighted the need for further investigation into the effect of alcohol on prostate cancer risk.

Can alcohol affect the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is unlikely to cause symptoms until a later stage. Screening is a valuable tool that doctors can use to spot the initial signs of disease in people with risk factors.

Occasionally, a person will experience symptoms, which may include:

  • needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
  • difficulty urinating
  • pain or a burning feeling when passing urine
  • blood in the urine or semen
  • difficulty achieving an erection
  • pain when ejaculating
  • pain or stiffness in the rectum, lower back, hips, or pelvis

Drinking a lot of alcohol can make a person urinate more than usual and have difficulty achieving an erection. It is possible that people might mistake both of these symptoms for early symptoms of prostate cancer.

Should you drink if you have prostate cancer?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help aid successful treatment.
Maintaining a healthful lifestyle can help aid successful treatment.

Staying healthy helps with any cancer treatment. Eating a healthful diet, doing regular exercise, and taking time to relax and unwind is essential. Being healthy includes drinking in moderation.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 define drinking in moderation as up to one drink per day for women and two per day for men.

Alcohol can sometimes interact with medication and stop it from working or cause side effects. People who are taking medication as part of their treatment for prostate cancer may wish to seek advice on whether it is safe for them to drink alcohol.

It is usually safe for people having treatment with radiation therapy to drink a small amount of alcohol. However, radiation therapy often causes tiredness, and alcohol can also make a person feel weary. Radiation therapy can cause a sensitive stomach too, and alcohol or spicy foods may worsen this symptom.

Causes of prostate cancer and risk factors

Research has linked several risk factors to prostate cancer. Some of these tie in with a person's environment while others relate to their genetics or individual characteristics. Risk factors may include:

  • age, with a significant increase in risk after 50 years of age
  • race, as African-Americans and Caribbean males of African ancestry are most at risk
  • a family history of prostate cancer
  • being overweight or obese

It is not clear what causes prostate cancer, and researchers are particularly unsure why some racial groups are more at risk than others.

Changes, or mutations, in the DNA in prostate gland cells can cause them to become cancerous. Mutations can pass from a parent to their child, or they can occur during a person's lifetime.

Diagnosis

Men who are 55 years of age or older may wish to consider having a screening test for prostate cancer.

Screening is when a person undergoes a test for cancer before any symptoms occur, and healthcare professionals usually offer it to people who have a higher risk of the disease.

The screening test for prostate cancer is known as a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

The test measures the amount of PSA in the blood. PSA is a protein that the prostate makes, and higher levels can suggest a problem with prostate health that may require further tests.

Tests that doctors use to diagnose prostate cancer after a PSA test can include a biopsy with a Gleason score.

A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue from the prostate gland and examining it under a microscope to look for cancer cells. A doctor may use ultrasound or imaging to locate the part of the tissue that they want to remove.

If the biopsy reveals cancer, a Gleason score gives doctors an idea of how likely it is to spread. The score is a number between two and 10. A lower score indicates that cancer is less likely to spread from the prostate.

Doctors may also check for signs of cancer inside the body using ultrasound. They may ask the individual questions about their family medical history and any symptoms to diagnose prostate cancer.

Treatment

Healthcare providers may recommend surgery to treat prostate cancer.
Healthcare providers may recommend surgery to treat prostate cancer.

The treatment for prostate cancer will depend on the individual and the extent of disease progression.

Prostate cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate gland may not need treatment.

If doctors find cancer early, it is often very treatable. However, a person will need regular tests so doctors can check that cancer has not spread.

Doctors refer to this close monitoring as active surveillance, and the tests usually include PSA tests, biopsies, and physical examinations.

If cancer cells have spread beyond the prostate gland, a person is likely to need treatment.

A common treatment for prostate cancer is radiation therapy, in which specialists direct beams of intense energy similar to X-rays at cancer cells. This energy kills the cells or slows down their growth.

A surgical procedure called prostatectomy is a further treatment option when the removal of the prostate gland is necessary. Radical prostatectomy removes both the prostate and the surrounding tissue.

Staging and survival rates

If doctors can catch prostate cancer early, it usually responds well to treatment.

Staging is a system that helps doctors determine how far cancer has spread in the body. There are three tiers of staging for prostate cancer:

  • local, when cancer cells are only present in the prostate
  • regional, meaning that cancer cells have spread to nearby areas of the body
  • distant, in cases where cancer cells have spread throughout the body

Survival rates are an approximate measure that can give a person some information about how likely their treatment is to be successful.

A 5-year relative survival rate denotes the percentage of people who live for at least 5 years after diagnosis compared with people who do not have this condition. Although information collection on survival rates takes place at the 5-year mark, it is possible that many people will live for much longer than this.

The 5-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer at the local and regional stage is nearly 100 percent, while it is around 29 percent at the distant stage. However, it is vital to remember that survival rates are an estimate and that everyone is different.

Takeaway

Scientists still need to carry out more research on the potential links between alcohol consumption and prostate cancer risk. However, it is possible that heavy drinking increases a person's risk of developing the disease.

For people with prostate cancer, drinking in moderation is generally safe. However, alcohol may interact with medication or other treatments, so people should seek medical advice to check that drinking alcohol will not be harmful to them.

Making some lifestyle changes can help a person live well while having treatment for prostate cancer. These changes may include reducing alcohol intake, doing more exercise, and eating a healthful diet.

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