Sperling Prostate Center

Is Environmental Quality Linked with Prostate Cancer?

Do you ever worry about the quality of the air you breathe or the water you drink from public sources? What about urban overcrowding? Noise pollution? Light pollution? There is no doubt that man-made factors can play a causal role in genetic errors that lead to disease. Many studies have demonstrated an association between poor environmental quality and cancer:

  • Emissions from industry, power generation, transportation, etc. spew particulate matter into the air, driving increased rates of lung cancer and breast cancer.
  • Contaminants in drinking water such as arsenic and by-products of disinfectant and fertilizer production are linked with cancers of the bladder, colon, rectum, stomach and kidney.
  • People in cities have higher cancer rates than those in rural areas. According to a 2014 paper, an increase in population density of 1,000 people per square kilometer results in a 13% increase in risk of cancer among men and 16% increase in this risk for women.[i]

Environmental factors and prostate cancer

A 2021 article out of the University of Illinois identifies five environmental domains associated with metastatic prostate cancer at the time of first diagnosis.[ii] When air, water, land, urban build-up and sociodemographic factors such as poverty and ethnicity are poor in quality, environmental exposure to these elements influences the development of prostate cancer. Water, land and sociodemographic conditions had the greatest association. In particular, the authors note that Black men are hit even harder than White men and other ethnic populations.

What can be done to remedy such large-scale problems? In the last 20 years, there has been a noticeable uptick in men’s health awareness, with individual men paying more attention to nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and cancer screenings from midlife onward. But this consciousness is not distributed evenly. Men with better economic status and more education, regardless of ethnicity, are more likely to take personal responsibility for leading healthier lives.

This is less true for urban, underprivileged groups. It is these men who suffer more exposure to environmental toxins, and therefore have more chance of being diagnosed with potentially lethal diseases, including prostate cancer.

The authors broadly state, “More work should be done to elucidate specific modifiable environmental factors associated with aggressive PC.” It’s impossible to disagree with this general principle, but how to put it into practice is a thorny problem to solve. At the time of this writing, the U.S. is grappling with the COVID pandemic, the urgency of which has eclipsed countless other social and health causes. Still, we must not take our focus off the need for a healthier environment for everyone, and a more equitable distribution of healthcare and clinical resources.

Meanwhile, pay attention to the environment in which you live, and in addition to making wholesome diet and exercise choices, be aware of reducing stress and boosting your immune system. After all, to paraphrase Smokey the Bear, the prostate you save may be your own.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Chawi?ska E, Tukiendorf A, Miszczyk L. Interrelation between population density and cancer incidence in the province of Opole, Poland. Contemp Oncol (Pozn). 2014; 18(5): 367–370.
[ii] Vigneswaran HT, Jagai JS, Greenwald DT, Patel AP et al. Association between environmental quality and prostate cancer stage at diagnosis. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2021 May 4.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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