Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among men worldwide. The disease is caused by a number of risk factors, from your age to your genes. And, it turns out, consuming milk may also play a role in whether you develop prostate cancer. Keep reading to learn more about the connection between milk and prostate cancer.
Research has shown that men who consume a lot of milk are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men who don’t eat calcium-heavy diets. An older study published in 1998 found evidence that men who drank more than two glasses of milk a day were at higher risk of advanced prostate cancer than men who did not consume that much milk. Whole milk seems to cause the highest increase in risk, although studies have also found a greater risk associated with low-fat milk.
Researchers have suggested the strong associations between milk intake and prostate cancer could be due to milk’s fat, calcium, and hormone levels. Other theories suggest the link could be caused by:
- the negative impact high-calcium foods have on vitamin D balance
- the increase in serum insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) concentrations caused by dairy
- the effect of dairy on testosterone levels
Scientists have also looked at the impact of dairy on prostate cancer progression. According to a 2012 study, men with prostate cancer who drank whole milk had a greater risk of lethal prostate cancer. The researchers, though, did not find this association to be true of other dairy or milk products.
A newer study from 2016 looked at the impact of milk and dairy products on health and determined that the evidence of a correlation between prostate cancer and milk is inconclusive. More research is needed to confirm this relationship, but if you’re already at risk for prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you may benefit from skipping milk.
Other dairy products
Studies on high calcium intake and prostate cancer seems to focus mostly on milk, but other dairy products have also been seen to increase risk. Those foods include ice cream and hard cheese, like American and cheddar cheeses. Research is scarce on how yogurt, cream, butter, and other dairy-based products affect prostate cancer risk.
No studies have found a link between soymilk and increased risk for prostate cancer. In fact, the opposite may be true. Clinical trials have shown that soy may reduce the risk for prostate cancer, though more research is needed to fully understand this link.
There are five common risks factors for prostate cancer:
- race and ethnicity
- family history
- genetic changes
A man’s risk of getting prostate cancer rises after age 50, with about 6 in 10 cases found in men over 65 years old.
Race and ethnicity
Prostate cancer happens more often in African-American and Afro-Caribbean men than men of other races. According to the American Cancer Society, black men are also more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men. Prostate cancer rates are lower in Asian and Hispanic men. Scientists don’t have a clear answer for these ethic and racial differences.
The highest rates of prostate cancer are seen in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia, and the Caribbean. The disease is less common in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Although the reasons are unclear, the American Cancer Society theorizes the gap in rates may exist due to differences in lifestyle and diet, and more intensive cancer screening.
Prostate cancer mortality rates around the world
Although incidence of prostate cancer is lower in Central and South America than in other areas, mortality rates are higher in those parts of the world than in other low-incidence countries.
Though most men who have prostate cancer do not have a family history of the disease, there may be an inherited or genetic factor for why prostate cancer runs in some families. Having a close relative, like a brother or father, with prostate cancer increases your risk for also developing the disease.
Prostate cancer can be caused by certain changes to DNA structure. These gene mutations can be hereditary or happen during a person’s lifetime. Lynch syndrome, as well as changes to the BRCA2 gene, can increase the risk of prostate cancer in men.
Some other factors have been loosely tied to an increase in prostate cancer risk:
- red-meat heavy diets
- exposure to chemicals
- prostate inflammation
Many studies have found a link between milk and prostate cancer rates, so if you can, it may be best to avoid milk or cut down on your intake. Studies are inconclusive, however, and more research is needed to better understand the link.
Survival rates for early-stage prostate cancer are high. According to the latest data available from American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for prostate cancer (relative to men without the disease) in the local or regional stage is 100 percent. The 5-year relative survival rate for advanced stage 4 cancer is only 28 percent, however. That’s why routine screenings are so important to treating prostate cancer. The earlier you’re able to catch the disease, the sooner you’re able to get treatment and go into remission.
You can’t eliminate your risk of getting prostate cancer, but you can lower it:
- Change your diet. Add lots of fruits and vegetables to your daily meal plan.
- Get active and stay fit. Go for walks, work out often, and maintain a healthy weight.
- Screen regularly. Regular prostate screenings are important for prevention and early detection. By testing for the disease before you have symptoms, your doctor is more likely to catch prostate cancer in its early stages.
You may also consider eliminating dairy from your diet. Here are some dairy alternatives that you can incorporate into your diet if you want to cut down on your dairy intake:
- Try rice, oat, soy, coconut, or almond milk to replace cow’s milk.
- Try vegan cheese, yeast flakes, or crumbled tofu to replace dairy-based cheeses.
- Choose soy-based yogurts and ice cream instead of products with cow’s milk.