Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

About RMCC

There is no way to predict whether or not you will develop prostate cancer. However, knowing your risk factors can help you and your healthcare team make the best decision regarding when to begin prostate cancer screening.

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing cancer. This does not guarantee that you will develop cancer. In fact, you might have several risk factors and never develop cancer. Still, it’s important to know if you have risk factors so you can begin screening to detect cancer at its earliest stage when it can be more effectively treated.

Some risk factors are completely out of your control. With that said, knowing that the following factors put you at greater risk means that you can be proactive and get screened regularly.

Age. Men aged 50 or older are at higher risk for prostate cancer. More than 80% of prostate cancer is diagnosed in men over the age of 65.

Race. Black men in the United States and men of African descent are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than other men.

Family history. Prostate cancer sometimes “runs” in a family. Called familial prostate cancer, it is responsible for about 20% of diagnoses. About 15% of familial prostate cancer may happen because of a shared environment or lifestyle. For example, men who grow up together in a family with a high-fat diet, large amounts of red meat and dairy, and low vegetable/fruit consumption would have a shared, increased risk for prostate cancer. Another example is male relatives who grow up in an extreme northern location and suffer low Vitamin D levels, which could put them at an increased risk for prostate cancer.

A genetic mutation passed on through the family is called hereditary prostate cancer and accounts for roughly 5% of all prostate cancer cases. Having a first-degree relative (father, son, or brother) with prostate cancer increases your risk 2-to-3 times more than someone who doesn’t. Other situations within your family that indicate the possibility of hereditary prostate cancer include:

  • Prostate cancer among 3 or more first-degree relatives 
  • Prostate cancer among 3 generations on the same side of the family
  • Prostate cancer diagnosis before the age of 55 of 2 or more close relatives (including grandfathers, uncles, or nephews on the same side of the family) 

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome. Linked to family history is a chance that a man may have female relatives who had breast or ovarian cancer, or possibly both. Men who have female relatives that test positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (BRCA is an abbreviation for Breast Cancer) may have inherited that gene too. In cases such as this, genetic counseling can be a good idea since men who have BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are at increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer and male breast cancer. 

Where you live. Men living in North America and northern Europe are at increased risk. This also includes Asian men who live in these regions. Asian men who live in Singapore, Hong Kong, and European and North American cities are at an even greater risk of prostate cancer — especially if they lead an inactive lifestyle and eat a less healthy diet.

Agent Orange exposure. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Vietnam veterans and Vietnamese immigrants exposed to Agent Orange are at increased risk of prostate cancer. Visit the VA website to learn more about your risk. 

Again, it’s important to remember that these risk factors are out of your control. You can’t change the circumstances of your birth, your relatives, or your military service. Nor can you easily relocate to another region.

Do Lifestyle Factors Increase the Risk for Prostate Cancer?

As with other cancers, your risk of prostate cancer is linked to your lifestyle choices. Avoiding the following things is helpful to lower your risk of both prostate cancer and other cancers and diseases: 

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking and use of other tobacco products 
  • Eating a diet that’s high in saturated fats, particularly from red meats (beef, pork, and lamb)

Recommendations For Prostate Cancer Screening 

At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we encourage you to talk with your doctor about your personal history and family history. Doing so will help him or her determine what screening recommendation would benefit you the most. The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Age 50 for men at average risk.
  • Age 45 for men at high risk, including African-Americans and men with a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65.
  • Age 40 for men at the highest risk. This includes men who have more than one first-degree relative with prostate cancer at a younger age

Lowering Your Risk of Developing Prostate Cancer

Although there are no guaranteed ways to ensure that you won’t get prostate cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. Many of these suggestions may help reduce the chance of developing other cancers too.

  • Add more fruits, vegetables, and legumes (peas and beans) to your diet. Swap refined grains for whole grains. Foods such as cooked tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), and soy-based foods seem especially helpful.
  • Replace some red meats in your diet with chicken and fish, especially fish with good fats like salmon.
  • Stop smoking. Consider using a smoking cessation program or “buddy” up with a friend so that you both can quit tobacco use.
  • Exercise more. If you are overweight, try to shed some pounds. Walking is a simple way to increase the amount of activity in your life.
  • Avoid excessive calcium, not exceeding more than 1,200 mg per day.
  • Consider Vitamin D. The highest death rates of prostate cancer occur among men who live north of 40 degrees latitude (north of Philadelphia, Columbus, OH, the Nebraska/Kansas border, and Boulder, CO). This adverse effect appears to be caused by decreased sunlight during the winter months. Talk with your doctor to see if you could benefit from taking Vitamin D.
  • Medication. Research shows that medications used to treat BPH, also known as prostate gland enlargement, may help reduce your risk for prostate cancer. Ask your doctor about finasteride and dutasteride (both available by prescriptions) to determine if one of these medications may be right for you.