Risks for prostate cancer

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Certain behaviours, substances or conditions can affect your risk, or chance, of developing cancer. Some things increase your risk and some things decrease it. Most cancers are the result of many risks. But sometimes cancer develops in people who don't have any risks.

The risk for prostate cancer increases as men get older. The chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is greater after age 50. Prostate cancer is most often diagnosed in men in their 60s.

The following can increase your risk for prostate cancer. Most of these risks cannot be changed.

Family history of prostate cancer

Black ethnicity (including African or Caribbean ancestry)

Obesity or overweight

Tall adult height

Inherited gene mutations

Family history of prostate cancer

There is convincing evidence that having a family history of prostate cancer increases your risk of developing the disease. This risk is higher if one of your first-degree relatives (your father, brother or son) has been diagnosed. The more first-degree relatives with prostate cancer you have, the greater your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer risk also depends on your relative's age at diagnosis. If your relative was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 65, your chance of developing prostate cancer is higher than if your relative was diagnosed at an older age.

Black ethnicity (including African or Caribbean ancestry)

Prostate cancer occurs in Black men (including men of African or Caribbean ancestry) more often than in men of other ethnicities. Black men are also more likely to have prostate tumours that grow and spread quickly and more likely to die from prostate cancer compared to other men.

Obesity or overweight

There is strong evidence that having obesity or overweight increases the risk for prostate cancer. Having these conditions makes it more likely that prostate cancer will be diagnosed at a later stage. High body fat is also linked with a higher risk of developing high grade prostate cancer.

Your risk for prostate cancer is higher if you have excess weight with

  • a high body mass index (BMI)
  • a large waist measurement – your waist is 94 cm (37 inches) or larger
  • a high waist-to-hip ratio – your waist measurement divided by your hip measurement is 1.0 or higher

Tall adult height

There is evidence that being a tall adult man increases the risk for prostate cancer. Several factors that lead to tall adult height, such as genetics and rate of growth during childhood, seem to contribute to the greater risk.

Inherited gene mutations

Some inherited gene mutations may increase the chance of developing prostate cancer. Only a very small number of prostate cancer cases are linked with inherited gene mutations. Right now, gene testing is not commonly done for prostate cancer.

The 2 most common gene mutations related to prostate cancer are HOXB13 and BRCA2. (The BRCA2 gene mutation also increases the risk for breast or ovarian cancer). Researchers are studying many other gene mutations that may affect the risk of developing prostate cancer.

Possible risks

The following have been linked with prostate cancer, but there is not enough evidence to know for sure that they are risks. More research is needed.

Diets high in dairy products and calcium

There is some evidence that diets high in dairy products and calcium may increase the risk for prostate cancer. Milk, yogurt and cheese are examples of dairy products and are also foods high in calcium.

Low blood levels of vitamin E or selenium

Some research shows that men who have low levels of vitamin E or selenium in their blood may have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. But there is not enough research to show that increasing the intake of vitamin E or selenium through diet or supplements can lower the risk for prostate cancer.

Working with certain chemicals

Some evidence suggests that contact with the following chemicals may increase the risk for prostate cancer.

Pesticides used in agriculture jobs are linked with a higher risk for prostate cancer. The risk may be even higher for men with a family history of prostate cancer. Researchers don't know how much exposure to pesticides and which specific chemicals affect prostate cancer risk.

Cadmium is a metal known to cause cancer (called a carcinogen). Some studies show that men who have contact with cadmium in smelting or battery manufacturing industries have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Not all research has shown this increased risk.

Chemicals in rubber manufacturing may increase the risk for prostate cancer.

Inflammation of the prostate

Inflammation of the prostate is called prostatitis. Many studies, but not all, show that long-term prostatitis increases the risk of developing prostate cancer. It also makes prostate cancer grow and spread more quickly. Find out more about prostatitis.

Smoking tobacco

Smoking tobacco may increase the risk for prostate cancer. Some studies also show that smoking may increase the risk of being diagnosed with fast-growing (aggressive) or advanced prostate cancer. It is unclear if smoking affects incidence, prognosis or both.

High levels of androgens

Androgens are male sex hormones that control the growth, development and function of the male reproductive system, which includes the prostate. Testosterone is the main androgen. It is naturally found in the body. It can also be taken as a treatment (called testosterone therapy) for certain conditions.

Some evidence suggests that high levels of androgens in the body are related to the development and growth of prostate cancer. More research is needed to understand the long-term effects of having high androgen levels and taking testosterone therapy.

Understanding your cancer risk

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your doctor questions to ask about risks. Learn how cancer can be prevented and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Expert review and references

  • Canadian Cancer Society | Société canadienne du cancer
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  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 83: Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking. 2004: boolean: yes.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100C: Arsenic, Metals, Fibres and Dusts: A Review of Human Carcinogens. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100C/mono100C.pdf.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100F: Chemical Agents and Related Occupations: A Review of Human Carcinogens. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100F/index.php.
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  • Mersch J, Jackson MA, Park M, et al . Cancers associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations other than breast and ovarian. American Cancer Society. Cancer. 2015: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25224030.
  • Schenk JM, Kristal AR, Arnold KB et al . Association of symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostate cancer: results from the prostate cancer prevention trial. American Journal of Epidemiology. Oxford Journals; 2011: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276227/.
  • Schenk JM, Till C, Hsing AW, et al. . Serum androgens and prostate cancer risk: results from the placebo arm of the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Cancer Causes and Control. 2016: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4724283/.
  • Scher HI, Scardino PT, Zelefsky . Cancer of the prostate. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 68:932-980.
  • Tangen CM, Neuhouser ML, Stanford JL . Prostate cancer. Thun MJ (ed.). Schottenfeld and Fraumeni Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 4th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2018: 53:997-1018.
  • World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Prostate Cancer. 2018: https://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Prostate-cancer-report.pdf.
  • World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) . Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Prostate Cancer . Washington, DC : American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) ; 2014 .

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