Prostate Cancer Patients More Likely To Die From Other Conditions Than The Cancer Itself
July 27, 2012

Prostate Cancer Patients More Likely To Die From Other Conditions Than The Cancer Itself

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer have a greater chance to die due to preventable conditions like heart disease, rather than from the cancer itself.

The study, the largest done to date, examines the causes of death related to men who have prostate cancer. The researchers believe that the findings show the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which can affect the management of prostate cancer. The results of the project were recently published in the Advance Access online Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Our results are relevant for several million men living with prostate cancer in the United States," said first author Mara Epstein, a postdoctoral researcher at HSPH, in a prepared statement. "We hope this study will encourage physicians to use a prostate cancer diagnosis as a teachable moment to encourage a healthier lifestyle, which could improve the overall health of men with prostate cancer, increasing both the duration and quality of their life."

According to the researchers, prostate cancer is the cancer most frequently diagnosed. It affects one in six men and the rate of diagnosis has increased among countries like the United States, Sweden, and other Western countries. On the other hand, the number of men who die from the disease has declined and scientists believe that this is due to the use of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test that has helped diagnose the disease in scores of men.

In the study, the investigators studied data from the U.S. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, which included more than 490,000 male participants from 1973 to 2008. They also looked at the nationwide Swedish Cancer and Cause of Death registries that took place between 1961 to 2008 and included more than 210,000 male participants.

The results from the project demonstrate that, during the study period, prostate cancer made up 52 percent of all deaths reported in Sweden and 30 percent of all deaths reported in the United States among men who had prostate cancer. On the other hand, only 35 percent of Swedish men and 16 percent of men from the U.S. who were diagnosed with prostate cancer died from the disease. In both groups, the likelihood of having a death related to prostate cancer declined, as opposed to the chance of death related to heart disease and non-prostate cancer which stayed constant.

Over the five-year period, deaths from prostate cancer were 29 percent in Sweden and 11 percent in the United States. The death rate related to prostate cancer can be different depending on age and calendar year of diagnosis. The most deaths associated to the disease were when men are diagnosed at an older age and when they were diagnosed during the earlier years of screenings. The researchers believe that the study´s findings will be useful in better understanding patient survival.

"Our study shows that lifestyle changes such as losing weight, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking, may indeed have a greater impact on patients' survival than the treatment they receive for their prostate cancer," said senior author Hans-Olov Adami, professor of epidemiology at HSPH, in the statement.