There appears to be a significant connection between two of the deadliest human illnesses -- prostate cancer and heart disease -- suggesting that they may have the same causes, according to a new study led by Duke Cancer Institute researchers.
If further research shows that both diseases have the same triggers, it could mean that it's possible for men to reduce their risk of prostate cancer by making the straightforward, proven lifestyle changes for fighting heart disease, including improving diet, stopping smoking, reducing cholesterol levels and getting more exercise.
"That's obviously what's exciting to us about these results," said Dr. Stephen Freedland, an associate professor of surgery and pathology in the Division of Urology at Duke and senior author of the paper.
The study appears online this month in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Previous studies into a possible link between the two diseases have offered conflicting results. This time, researchers found that the correlation is real, Freedland said.
"It's not like every man in the study with heart disease had cancer," he said. "But we can say that clearly if you do have heart disease, your risk of prostate cancer is higher."
The researchers studied data from nearly 6,400 men who were enrolled in a large prostate drug trial. Of those, 547 reported a history of heart disease at the time they enrolled.
The men had prostate biopsies to test for cancer two years and four years into the study. Using results from those biopsies, the researchers found that having coronary artery disease increased the risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent averaged over the four-year study. That risk increased over time.
The study is not ideal, in part because it relied on data from an unrelated drug trial. In addition, the results simply show a link, pointing the way to further research into questions such as whether heart disease can somehow cause prostate cancer.
Still, the implications carry unusual weight because both diseases are major killers. Cancer of the prostate is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among men, while heart disease is the single greatest killer of adults of both sexes, responsible for one in four deaths.
©2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
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