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Prostate Cancer: Risk Factors

Three generations of African-American men smiling at the camera

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. It may be smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Some specific information about risk factors:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk. They do not necessarily cause the disease. 

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Others can develop cancer and have no known risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Knowing the risk factors for a disease can help you make lifestyle choices. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your health care provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

What are risk factors for prostate cancer?

Risk factors for prostate cancer include

  • Sex. Prostate cancer is only a risk if you are male.

  • Age. Men ages 50 and older are at higher risk. About two-thirds of all prostate cancers are found in men over age 65.

  • Race and nationality. Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men. It is less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men. Asian men in the U.S. are at higher risk than Asian men living in Asia.

  • Diet and obesity. Men who have a diet high in red meat or high-fat dairy foods may have a greater chance of getting prostate cancer. Obesity has been linked with a higher risk of a more aggressive type of prostate cancer.

  • Environment. Men who are exposed to toxic substances at work may have a higher risk for prostate cancer.

  • Family history of prostate cancer. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer greatly raises a man's risk for the disease. The risk is even higher if more than 1 family member has the cancer, especially if at a young age.

What you can do to reduce the risk for prostate cancer

Some risk factors, such as family history, are not within your control. But you can control other risk factors, such as diet and weight. You may be able to lower your risk for prostate cancer if you:

  • Eat less of certain foods. Not eating as much red meat and high-fat dairy foods may lower your risk. Instead have lean meats, fish, and low- or nonfat dairy foods.

  • Avoid too much calcium. Having too much calcium in your diet or from calcium supplements may raise your risk. If you take supplements, talk with your health care provider about their benefits and risks.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk with your health care provider about how to lose weight. If you are at a healthy weight, stay there. Get regular physical activity. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days.

Talk with your health care provider you have a family history of prostate cancer. Talk with him or her about your risk factors. Your health care provider may advise you to have regular health exams or certain tests. 

If you are at high risk, your health care provider may talk to you about medicines. Drugs called 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors have been shown to lower prostate cancer risk. These drugs are often used to treat an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). 

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
Date Last Reviewed: 7/7/2014
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.