Risk Factors

Men with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop prostate cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease. Having a risk factor doesn't necessarily mean that a man will develop prostate cancer, as most men who have risk factors never develop the disease.

Different cancers have different risk factors. Studies have found the following risk factors for prostate cancer. For some of these factors, the link to prostate cancer risk is not yet clear.

  • Age

    Age is the main risk factor for prostate cancer. The chance of getting prostate cancer increases as a man gets older. This cancer is rarely found in men under the age of 40, but the probability of being diagnosed with prostate cancer rapidly increases after age 50. About six in 10 cases of prostate cancer are found in men over the age of 65.

  • Race and Ethnicity

    Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men than in men of other races. African-American men are also more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of cancer. Caucasian and Hispanic men have a lower incidence of prostate cancer, and it’s even less common among Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native men. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

  • Nationality

    Prostate cancer is most common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia and on Caribbean islands. It is less common in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. The reasons for this are not clear. More intensive screening in some developed countries probably accounts for at least part of this difference, but other factors are likely to be important as well. For example, lifestyle differences, such as diet, may be factors.

  • Family History

    Prostate cancer seems to be common to some families, indicating that there may be an inherited or genetic component to this disease. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man's risk of developing prostate cancer. This risk is higher for men who have a brother with prostate cancer than for those who have a father with prostate cancer. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time the cancer was found.

  • Genetics

    Some inherited genes raise the risk for more than one type of cancer, including several that seem to raise prostate cancer risk. It is likely that these account for only a small number of prostate cancer cases. Genetic testing for most of these genes is not yet available. Inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which have been found to be the cause of breast and ovarian cancers being common in some families, may also increase prostate cancer risk in some men.

  • Diet

    Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Doctors are not sure which of these factors is responsible for raising the risk.

  • Obesity

    Studies have found that being obese is not a risk factor in developing prostate cancer. However, when obese men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancer is often advanced and therefore more difficult to treat. The reasons for this are not clear.

  • Exercise

    While studies have not determined that exercise reduces a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer, high levels of physical activity, particularly in older men, have been linked to lowering the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

  • Inflammation

    Inflammation is often seen in samples of prostate tissue that also contain cancer; however, studies to determine if there is a link between the two have been inconclusive.

  • PIN

    Men with cells called high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) may be at increased risk of prostate cancer.