Consuming milk may be a risk factor for prostate cancer. Some health experts suggest people avoid or limit milk and dairy products. However, there are other factors that can increase a person’s risk of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death among males in the United States. According to data from 2017–2019, around 13 in 100 males will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer during their lifetime.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that a healthy diet may help protect against certain types of cancer and that eating dairy may be a risk factor for developing prostate cancer.

This article explores research on the link between prostate cancer and milk and whether there are any health benefits of drinking milk for people with prostate cancer. It also discusses risk factors and treatment for prostate cancer and when to contact a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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A 2021 systematic review looked at milk consumption and prostate cancer. The authors found that the overwhelming majority of the studies suggested there is a link between milk consumption and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

However, when looking at skim milk versus full-fat milk, the researchers were unclear if the fat or other milk components might cause the increased risk of developing prostate cancer. Other scientists have evaluated the link between estrogen in milk and prostate cancer, and the authors suggest this requires further research.

The review authors concluded that while the study findings were inconclusive, doctors may recommend that people at higher risk of prostate cancer limit or reduce their milk consumption, especially high-fat milk.

Another 2021 review concluded that diets high in processed meat and fatty dairy products and low in plant foods may lead to the development of prostate cancer. The review notes that this is due to high saturated and trans fats and insufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals, which can lead to rapid production of cancer cells.

The NCI advises that avoiding risk factors, including dairy and calcium, and increasing protective factors may help prevent prostate cancer.

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Some people may be concerned that they will not obtain beneficial nutrients if they limit their milk consumption to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.

Some research indicates that selenium and zinc may help to prevent prostate cancer. Both of these nutrients, as well as calcium, are present in milk. However, the same review suggested that increased calcium intake is a risk factor for prostate cancer.

If people wish to reduce milk in their diet to reduce their risk of prostate cancer, they can obtain nutrients such as calcium, zinc, and selenium from other foods.

For example, experts advise that increasing the amount of soy products in the diet may help reduce prostate cancer risk. Calcium-set tofu is a soy product that may contribute to some of a person’s recommended daily calcium intake.

People can also include other foods such as kale, sardines, and beans in their diet to obtain calcium, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals. Brazil nuts, as well as certain types of fish, are excellent sources of selenium.

Therefore, someone with prostate cancer does not need to consume milk to obtain certain nutrients as long as they eat a healthy and varied diet. A healthcare professional can offer advice for modifying the diet safely.

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The NCI advises that, in addition to dairy products and calcium, the following factors may increase a person’s risk of prostate cancer:

  • Age: The risk increases with age, and the condition is less common in males under 50 years.
  • Genetics: People with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to develop the condition. Additionally, prostate cancer occurs more often in African American males than white males.
  • Hormones: Testosterone becomes dihydrotestosterone (DHT) after interacting with an enzyme. DHT may play a part in prostate enlargement and prostate cancer development.
  • Vitamin E: A study found that taking vitamin E alone increased the risk of developing prostate cancer.
  • Folic acid: Some research suggests that taking too much folic acid, which is a synthetic version of folate, may be a risk factor for developing prostate cancer.

Learn more about prostate cancer in Black males.

Additionally, experts suggest that the following play a part in disease development:

Experts advise that treatment options depend on several factors, including the stage of prostate cancer someone has and if it has spread, their age, and whether the cancer has recurred.

Treatment options may include the following:

If someone experiences any symptoms of prostate cancer, especially if they have a family history of the disease, they should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

After diagnosis, a healthcare professional can monitor the disease’s development and recommend appropriate treatment.

Consuming milk and other dairy products may be a risk factor for developing prostate cancer. Scientists have not concluded which type of milk may be the most harmful and are unsure if the fat content, calcium, or other compounds in milk contribute to prostate cancer development.

People may wish to limit their milk consumption with guidance from a healthcare professional. Anyone with prostate cancer symptoms should speak with a doctor.