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The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on April 16, 2021.

Prostate cancer risk factors

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In fact, one in five American men is expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in his life.

What causes prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer forms when the DNA in prostate cells develops mutations that may disable their ability to control cell growth and division. In many cases, these mutated cells die or are attacked by the immune system. However, some mutated cells may escape the immune system and grow out of control, forming a prostate tumor.

Understanding the risk factors may help men take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing this disease.

Risk factors you can’t control

Age: The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age. One in 10,000 men younger than 40 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, but one in 15 men in their 60s will be diagnosed with the disease.

Family history: Being born with a gene mutation is one of the unavoidable risks of prostate cancer. Two of them include the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. BRCA and other inherited mutations, including HOXB13 and DNA mismatch repair genes, may explain why prostate cancer runs in families. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer may double a man’s risk, especially if that relative was diagnosed before age 55.

Hormones: The level of male sex hormones, called androgens, may be higher in some men than others. Higher levels of androgens—mainly testosterone—have been linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. Men who use testosterone therapy are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, as an increase in testosterone stimulates the growth of the prostate gland.

Prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN): This condition may be associated with increased risk of prostate cancer. PIN is a condition in which prostate gland cells look abnormal when examined with a microscope. It’s not necessarily linked with any symptoms. Nearly half of men will be diagnosed with PIN before age 50.

Race: Studies show that African-American men are about 70 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime than Caucasian or Hispanic men.

Risk factors you can control

The evidence for prostate cancer prevention (and cancer prevention in general) suggests adopting these habits:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid fat from dairy products and red and processed meats 
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and highly processed food
  • Limit calcium intake to 1,200 milligrams per day
  • Eat more healthy fats from fatty fish and olive oil
  • Get additional nutrients from tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, soy-based foods and green tea
  • Don’t smoke and avoid heavy use of alcohol A
  • void overdosing on multivitamins
  • Avoid vitamin E supplements and folic acid supplements
  • Work to control blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Keep your stress level low