The Manual: eating healthily with prostate cancer
If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the last think you might want to think about is changing your eating and drinking habits. But following a healthy diet can really make a difference. Our Specialist Nurse, Laura, answers some of your diet-related questions.
Why is it important to eat healthily if you’ve got prostate cancer?
We all know that following a healthy diet is important for general health. It can help you stay a healthy weight and lower your risk of some health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and some other cancers.
But eating healthily and staying a healthy weight is also important for men with prostate cancer. Why? Well, firstly because there is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of aggressive or advanced prostate cancer.
Staying a healthy weight may also mean your prostate cancer is less likely to spread after surgery or radiotherapy. And if you’re having hormone therapy to treat your prostate cancer, your treatment may be less effective if you are very overweight.
If you’re experiencing side effects from your treatment, such as weight gain, hot flushes or urinary problems, thinking about your eating habits may also help you manage them.
How can I eat more healthily?
Food is an important and enjoyable part of everyday life and it’s important to remember this if you decide to change or improve your diet. A healthy diet doesn’t need to be boring. In fact, it’s good to eat lots of different foods to make sure you get a range of nutrients. Try and include plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Set yourself realistic goals and start by making small changes that you feel comfortable with. Trying to make lots of big changes at once can be difficult, and you may find it hard to keep them going over time.
Try to cut down on unhealthy foods, such as those high in sugar or saturated fat, and those with added flavouring or preservatives.
If you want help to improve your diet, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian. They can help if you’re making big changes to your diet or if you have other health problems that could be affected, such as diabetes. You can also find out more at www.nhs.uk/livewell
Is there anything I can eat to stop my cancer coming back after treatment?
You’ve probably seen stories in the papers about foods that either cause or cure cancer. It’s sensible to be a bit cautious about these because the evidence behind them is often very patchy or not there at all.
However, there is some evidence that certain foods may help slow down the growth of prostate cancer or reduce the chance of it coming back after treatment. These include soy and other pulses, green tea, tomatoes, pomegranate juice and cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts).
But it’s also important to say that the evidence is limited and we do need more research before we can say for certain whether any single food can help slow down
the growth of prostate cancer. Read more about the current evidence at prostatecanceruk.org/diet
Should I be taking supplements?
Some people like to use dietary supplements or herbal remedies, but there’s little evidence that supplements are helpful for men with prostate cancer. Some supplements may also interfere with your treatment for prostate cancer, so let your doctor or nurse know if you’re taking any.
Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet without taking supplements.
For example, some research has found that vitamin E from food might help to protect against advanced cancer. But vitamin E supplements don’t seem to lower the risk of prostate cancer and might even be harmful. You do need vitamin E in your diet as it’s important for good health. But you should be able to get enough from foods, such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and cereals without taking supplements.
Some men, though, may need to take specific supplements. For example, if you’re on hormone therapy, your doctor might recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements to help avoid bone-thinning.
Is there any food I should avoid?
There is some evidence that eating a lot of certain foods may be harmful for men with prostate cancer. These include dairy foods and calcium, red and processed meats, and meat cooked at very high temperatures.
We don’t recommend avoiding them completely, as we need more research to fully understand their effects,and you may still want to eat moderate amounts of these foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Whether men with prostate cancer should eat dairy foods and calcium is something we get asked a lot about. Calcium is important for strong bones and overall health, so you need some in your diet. Normal amounts of calcium and dairy foods – which are high in calcium – won’t increase your risk of advanced prostate cancer. But we don’t know enough about the effect of large amounts of calcium or dairy foods.
Some studies suggest that eating more than 2,000mg of calcium per day (the amount in about 1.6 litres of milk) may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer several years later. But other studies have found no link so we can’t say for certain either way. Non-dairy sources of calcium, such as soy milk with added calcium, are widely available in supermarkets and health food shops.
If you’re on hormone therapy, you’ll need extra calcium to protect your bones. This is because hormone therapy can cause bone thinning, which may increase your risk of bone fractures. Men on hormone therapy should aim for 1,200-1,500mg of calcium each day. This is still a safe amount. If you don’t think there’s enough calcium in
your diet, speak to your doctor or nurse about taking calcium supplements.