12 Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

Even if you aren't experiencing symptoms, it's important to understand the risk factors for prostate cancer.

risk factors for prostate cancer

Unfortunately, being older and being African American are both risk factors for prostate cancer.

What are the risk factors for prostate cancer? It’s a question that remains unanswered despite a growing body of research identifying risk factors and prevention strategies.

Scientists do know that prostate cancer symptoms occur when changes or mutations in the DNA of prostatic cells cause abnormal proliferation of those cells, resulting in a tumor that can remain localized to the prostate gland or spread to other parts of the body.

While having one or more of the known risk factors for prostate cancer does not necessarily mean you will develop prostate cancer, it does mean your risk is increased.

12 Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

  • Age: Age is the most significant risk factor for prostate cancer with increasing age associated with an increasing risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 2.5 out of every 100 50-year-old men will develop prostate cancer by age 60, and that 7.5 out of every 100 70-year-old men will develop it by age 80.
  • Race: African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer and die from it than Caucasian men.
  • Family history: Having a father or brother with prostate cancer increases your prostate cancer risk. Some research suggests this risk is two to three times higher than in men with no family history. The risk is increased if the first degree relative was diagnosed before the age of 60 or if you have more than one first degree relative with prostate cancer.
  • Genes: Scientists have identified certain genes associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer, although there is currently only a test for one, a mutation in the BRCA2 gene known better for its risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • History of another cancer: Having had melanoma, thyroid cancer, bladder cancer, lung cancer, or kidney cancer slightly increases your risk for prostate cancer.
  • Height and weight: Evidence suggests that obese men are at increased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer and of dying from their prostate cancer. Some research has also indicated that taller men have an increased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer and metastatic prostate cancer compared with shorter men.
  • Smoking: A history of smoking has been linked to an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer in some studies. The relationship between smoking and prostate cancer risk appears to be dose-dependent such that men who smoke the most have the highest risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.
  • Vitamin E supplements: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) demonstrated that men who took vitamin E supplements alone had a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer.
  • Geography: Men living in North America, the Caribbean, northwestern Europe, and Australia have a higher incidence of prostate cancer than men living in Africa, Asia, Central, and South America. The reasons for this are unclear, though some scientists suspect that differences in resources for diagnosis or dietary factors may play a role. Interestingly, Asian-American men have a higher risk of prostate cancer than men of a similar background living in Asia.
  • High-calcium diet: A large European study of more than 142,000 men found an increased risk of prostate cancer with high dietary intake of calcium from dairy products, though not in men whose calcium came from non-dairy sources. A large U.S. study also found a link between high consumption of calcium and dairy and prostate cancer.
  • High-in-fat diet: Some studies have shown that men with high dietary fat consumption, particularly animal fat, have an increased risk of prostate cancer. As a result, some doctors encourage patients to get their fat from plant sources such as olive oil, nuts, or seeds and to reduce their total fat intake.
  • Abnormal changes in the prostate cells: Scientists have identified two non-cancerous conditions of the prostate diagnosed by biopsying prostate tissue that some research suggests might be precursors to prostate cancer. High-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) in which the cells look abnormal but are not yet cancerous is one of these conditions. Studies have demonstrated that 20 percent of men with high-grade PIN have cancer in another part of the prostate. The other condition is Proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA) in which the prostate cells are smaller than usual and have signs of inflammation. There is some evidence that having PIA might increase your risk of high-grade PIN or prostate cancer.



Q: How do I know if I have prostate cancer? Does it offer any warning signs?

A: Prostate cancer usually causes symptoms only when it has reached an advanced stage. The symptoms can include trouble starting to urinate or an inability to urinate, increased urinary frequency, burning or painful urination, blood in the urine or semen, painful ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and pain in the lower back, hips, or thighs.

However, most of the time, these symptoms result from a condition other than prostate cancer. For instance, increased urinary urgency and frequency or difficulty starting to urinate are more commonly associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). These symptoms, as well as burning or painful urination and pain in the lower back, pelvis, and lower abdomen, also may be signs of chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome, a noncancerous inflammation of the prostate.

The only way to know what’s causing your symptoms is to seek an evaluation from your physician. And, if you’re concerned about prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening.

Originally published in 2016 and regularly updated.

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Helen Boehm Johnson, MD

Helen Boehm Johnson, MD, is a medical writer who brings the experience of a residency-trained physician to her writing. She has written Massachusetts General Hospital’s Combating Memory Loss report (2019, 2020, … Read More

View all posts by Helen Boehm Johnson, MD

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