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Maintaining weight and not smoking may help keep prostate cancer at bay

For most of his life, Rick Deitrich has maintained a fairly healthy lifestyle. He battled high blood pressure, but he kept his weight consistently around 180 pounds, he never smoked and he visited his doctor regularly.

Yet Deitrich, 65, had a feeling that he was a prime candidate for prostate cancer; four of his uncles as well as a number of his cousins had all contracted the disease, a fact he found "pretty worrisome."

"I said, 'Man, I'm going to get this, I'm going to get this,' " said Deitrich, who lives in Woodbine. "I think I jinxed myself."

Indeed, Deitrich, who heads a family-run biomedical-oriented marketing and advertising firm, found his fears confirmed a year and a half ago when a spot was detected on his prostate.

It was Stage 1 cancer, and Deitrich and his urologist, Dr. Marc Siegelbaum, set out on an aggressive course to arrest the disease before it could spread.

They opted for surgery to remove the prostate rather than radiation or a treatment that involves having radioactive seeds implanted in the prostate. After surgery, his doctors discovered that the cancer had advanced more than previously realized.

"The fact that I had had the surgery was, to me, life-saving, as far as I was concerned," said Deitrich. "When I saw the numbers and that it was higher than I had thought, I said, 'Wow if I had let this operation go for another two or three years, it would have definitely started to spread.' "

Instead, Deitrich and his family plan to celebrate his more than one year of being cancer-free at Sunday's ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk at Towson University.

Since his diagnosis and surgery, Deitrich said he has lost about 10 pounds, while continuing to maintain good eating habits. His blood pressure and cholesterol are under control, and he has counseled other prostate cancer survivors to keep up their spirits and to live healthy.

The living healthy aspect may be key to reducing the odds of prostate cancer reoccurring, according to a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

A study of more than 1,500 men who had had radical prostate cancer surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital suggests that cancer recurrence is considerably more likely among patients who gain weight or smoke.

The study followed the men, who had had prostate surgery between 1993 and 2006, for about seven years after their surgery. The patients were asked to remember how much they had weighed in the five years before surgery, and what they weighed a year following their operation, as well as if they had smoked after the surgery.

The findings revealed that men who were smokers one year after surgery doubled their risk of the cancer's returning. Former smokers and nonsmokers did not see an increased risk.

The risk of the cancer's coming back also doubled in the men who had gained five or more pounds — and it didn't matter if they were overweight to begin with. It was the weight gain itself that posed the risk, the study found.

Corinne Joshu, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the survey did not delve into areas such as what roles the ethnicity or race of patients played, because the sample was not diverse enough to conduct that kind of analysis. The survey also did not explore for a link between diet and recurrence.

"We were going for big-picture preventative messages. Maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking certainly are two big ones," said Joshu, who conducted the study with epidemiologist Elizabeth Platz, along with Hopkins urologists and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute and Duke University.

Joshu said further study, particularly in the area of weight gain, has been difficult because most men over 65 — the age range that the American Cancer Society reports that 60 percent of prostate cancer diagnoses come from — tend to gain weight.

For Ben Lowentritt, medical director of the prostate cancer care program at Chesapeake Urology, the study's results reinforce what he has been telling his patients.

"[Having] data behind what we're able to say gives us a little bit more clarity on how to appropriately counsel patients," said Lowentritt.

Still, the survey, whose findings were initially released in 2011, has resonated beyond its initial impact.

For instance, Lowentritt said, such studies might lead researchers to look for how things that trigger one ailment may impact others.

"Traditionally, we treat a significant disease like this as an individual entity," said Lowentritt. "I do think we're evolving the way we think about that. We're understanding, whether it be weight, overall health and exercise, blood sugar control and things like that, actually do impact outcomes, but it hasn't been studied as robustly as a particular surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, et cetera, that might be used to treat a particular cancer."

ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk

The run/walk will be held this Sunday at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium. For details, visit zerocancer.org or call 202-463-9455.

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