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Fatty Fish Joins the Fight Against Prostate Cancer

By Jane Hart, MD

(December 24, 2008)-Eating a diet rich in fatty fish has well-known health benefits for both men and women. Now new research suggests that, in addition to helping protect against life-threatening conditions like heart disease, it may help people already diagnosed with a serious disease: prostate cancer. A study showed that men with prostate cancer who eat fatty fish or seafood several times a week may live longer with the diease.

Diet may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of cancer according to recent research. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men in the United States, so it is important to understand this connection. In a recent study, researchers examined the association between the amount of fish men eat and their risk of dying from prostate cancer.

The case for more seafood

Study participants were 20,167 cancer-free men from the Physician's Health Study. At the beginning of the study, the men filled out a food questionnaire that included questions about the amount of fish they ate. Specifically they were asked about how much they ate of the following: canned tuna; dark fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish; other fish; and shrimp, lobster, and scallops. The men were followed for an average of 19 years, during which 2,161 men developed prostate cancer.

Results of the study showed that, while eating fish did not prevent prostate cancer, men who ate fish at least five times per week had a 48% lower risk of prostate cancer death compared with men who ate fish less than once a week. The authors concluded that eating fish may improve cancer survival time. They also note that men who ate more fish were also more likely to eat more tomato products, take a multivitamin and vitamin E, and engage in vigorous physical activity compared with men who ate less fish. It is possible that some of the observed improvement in survival could be due to these other factors. "Several aspects of diet may be important in preventing or slowing the progression of prostate cancer," said Jorge E. Chavarro, MD, lead author of the study from the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts. He recommends further research.

Tips for reducing cancer risk

Cancer is caused by a number of factors including genetics, the environment, and lifestyle behaviors. Here are some things a person can do to lower their risk of developing cancer:

• Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can increase the risk for certain types of cancer and can increase the risk of recurrence in a person who already has cancer. If you are overweight you should lose weight with the guidance of a physician. A person undergoing cancer treatment, however, should talk with their physician before losing weight.

• Exercise regularly: If you are healthy, experts recommend that you exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes at a moderate to vigorous level in order to optimize health and help prevent cancer. Cancer survivors are also encouraged to exercise through most phases of treatment and survival. Cancer survivors should talk with their physician about the appropriate amount and duration of weekly exercise.

• Eat a balanced diet: Eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and include fish and poultry in the diet several times a week.

• Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all: Drinking alcohol may increase your risk of cancer and risk of recurrence of cancer. Talk with your doctor about the amount of alcohol that is safe to drink based on your specific health conditions.

• Don't smoke: Smoking increases your risk of developing lung, throat, and mouth cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of cancer in the people around you through the well-known dangers of secondhand smoke.
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