Here at Bay Breast Care we’re all about women’s health, but let’s not neglect the guys.   It’s time to talk about prostate cancer….including family risk and the importance of what we eat.

A recent study from Scandinavia estimated that prostate cancer is the most strongly inherited form of cancer, followed by testicular cancer and only after that, breast cancer.

This can be proved by studying two types of twins: non-identical twins who have the same genetic relationship as brothers, and identical twins who came from the same egg and share the same genes.

The genetic risk levels for these male cancers are higher than previously estimated but are believed to be accurate because the study that generated this data is based on the comprehensive birth-to-death registries kept in the Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (These same registries have also provided valuable information on breast cancer).

A study like this will also encourage research, as not much is known about inherited prostate cancers. The picture isn’t likely to be simple, as in ‘find one gene that causes cancer’. Rather, it’s likely to be a number of genes that, put together, add up to an increased risk.

Meanwhile, the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PRCM), a non-profit organisation promoting better nutrition in order to prevent disease, has bad news for our red-blooded, carnivorous South African guys: grilling meat (including chicken) over a direct flame until charred is a significant risk for a variety of cancers.

For prostate cancer, which like many breast cancers is linked to hormone production, red meat is the worst culprit as a food group – though it’s not the red part that promotes testosterone, but the fat.

Dedication to fast-food like boerewors, fried chicken and burgers, is associated not only with rising rates of obesity but also with more colon and rectal cancer in the under-fifty age group.

It’s not always the meat itself, but the way we cook it: at high temperatures, producing Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, a fancy term for the delicious smell of fat that dripped onto the fire and is being carried back by smoke and flames onto the food. Compared to those eating mainly plant based food, meat eaters develop more of the type of gut bacteria that turns natural bile acids (which help digest fat) into cancer promoting “secondary bile acids”.

So what’s the problem with meat? In addition to harmful chemicals formed by charring and by gut bacteria, or promotion of excess hormones by the fat in the meat, meat eaters don’t get the benefit of fibre which effectively removes carcinogens by speeding the passage of food through the colon. A diet high in plant material actually changes the type of bacteria that predominates in the gut – so less secondary bile acid – whilst fruits and veggies pack a punch in terms of antioxidants and other helpful nutrients.

The picture isn’t pretty – and this is without factoring in the contributions of the meat industry which include heavy dosing of birds and animals with antibiotics to counteract the unhygienic conditions in which many creatures live as they wait to be eaten, and the use of hormone supplements to bulk them up.

No surprise, therefore, that vegetarians have a far better cancer-risk profile with as much as a 40% reduced risk for all cancers.

With the price of meat on the rise again and in particular chicken, this could be a good time for all of us to cut back on consumption and to look at other options for the traditional braai – such as cooking veggies and fish in foil or on a braai plank (on sale at Woolworths).

Here’s how it’s done: