Prostate Cancer Risk Factors
A risk factor is something that makes you more likely to develop a specific type of cancer. Because cancer is easier to treat when it's found early, it's important for men understand the risk factors for prostate cancer. By knowing what makes you more likely to develop prostate cancer, you can discuss a screening plan that's best for you.
It's important to note that the presence of risk factors isn't a guarantee you will develop a specific type of cancer. Even if you have all of the risk factors, it's possible you'll never develop prostate cancer. Likewise, you can develop the disease with no risk factors at all.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors Outside of Your Control
To date, research shows that the following uncontrollable factors may play a role in the probability that a man will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime:
- Age. Men are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer when they are over 50 years old.
- Race. Men of African descent are both more likely to develop prostate cancer and more likely to have more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
- Genetics: There are some known genetic mutations passed down through a family that can lead to a higher likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Talk to your doctor about genetic testing if you have a family history of prostate cancer.
- Family history. Men who have a family history of prostate cancer (an immediate relative who had or has prostate cancer) are at higher risk of developing the disease than men with no family history, and that risk increases in men with multiple relatives who have or have had prostate cancer. Genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 among relatives can also increase risk.
- Region. Men who live in North America, Australia, northwestern Europe, and on the Caribbean Islands are at higher risk of developing prostate cancer than men who live in other parts of the world.
Lifestyle Risk Factors for Developing Prostate Cancer
Additionally, there are lifestyle factors that are believed to increase risk of developing prostate cancer. Those factors include:
- Consuming a diet that is high in saturated fat, which is found in dairy products and red meats, and lacking fruits and vegetables.
- Being obese or very overweight.
- Smoking cigarettes or other forms of tobacco (Smoking is related to many cancers. For prostate cancer, it has been proven to increase the risk of dying from prostate cancer if you develop it.)
Understanding your level of risk makes it possible for you and your healthcare team to make informed decisions about when to start prostate cancer screening. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screenings at age 50 for men at average risk; at age 45 for those at high risk; and at age 40 for those at highest risk (those who have a first-degree relative who developed prostate cancer at a young age).
When Is the Right Time for a Prostate Cancer Screening?
Lower Your Risk of Developing Prostate Cancer
There is nothing you can do to guarantee you'll never develop prostate cancer, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, which involve changing the controllable risk factors and include:
- Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. Because not getting enough fruits and vegetables can increase your risk, incorporating colorful fruits and veggies may help reduce your risk.
- Reducing your intake of red meats and dairy products. Replacing some red meats and dairy products with lean meats, nuts, and other sources of lean protein can reduce your risk.
- Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. Since obesity can increase your risk, managing your weight through an active lifestyle can help reduce your risk.
- Taking certain medications. Research suggests that finasteride and dutasteride might reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. These are prescription drugs, so you'll need to coordinate with your primary care provider to discuss incorporating them into your treatment plan.
- Don't smoke. Smoking might reduce your chances of surviving prostate cancer, so if you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, take steps to quit or cut back today.