Risk factors and causes of prostate cancer
In the UK about 1 in 14 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. In the USA the incidence is much higher. This is thought to be due to the fact that in the USA more men have tests to try to detect early prostate cancer.
The number of men being diagnosed with cancer of the prostate gland in the UK (and many other countries) has increased in recent years. It is thought that the incidence is increasing because more men are having tests that detect very early prostate cancers that would previously not have been found. It may also be because the number of older men in the population is growing.
Researchers are trying to find out more about the causes of prostate cancer. Although the causes of cancer of the prostate are still unknown, there are some factors that are known to increase a man’s chance of developing the disease.
This is the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer. Men under 50 have a very low risk of prostate cancer, but their risk increases as they get older. It’s estimated that around 80% of men in their 80s will have some degree of prostate cancer.
Some ethnic groups have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer than others. For example, black African and black Caribbean men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. Asian men have a lower risk of developing it.
Men who have close relatives (a father, brother, grandfather or uncle) who have had prostate cancer are slightly more likely to develop it themselves.
It is thought that a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer is higher if:
their father or brother developed prostate cancer at or under the age of 60
more than one man on the same side of the family has had prostate cancer.
If this is the case in your family, it may indicate that a faulty gene is present.
A specific gene linked to prostate cancer has not yet been identified. However, research has shown that faulty genes that are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer (called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2) may also increase the risk of getting prostate cancer. So, if there’s a strong family history of breast cancer on the same side of the family (especially before the age of 40), it could also indicate that a faulty gene may be present.
Only a small number of prostate cancers (5-10%, or less than 1 in 10 cases) are thought to be due to an inherited faulty gene running in the family.
If you are worried about your family history see our section about cancer genetics and prostate cancer.
There’s often a lot of information in the press and on TV about diet and cancer. There is no single ‘superfood’ or special diet that can give you complete protection from getting cancer. However, eating a healthy balanced diet that’s high in fibre and low in fat and sugars may reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancers and other illnesses.
Men from western countries, such as the UK and USA, have a higher rate of prostate cancer than men from eastern countries such as China and Japan. It’s thought that this might be because western diets tend to be higher in animal fat (including dairy products) and lower in fresh fruit and vegetables. Asian men also tend to have a higher intake of soy in their diet. Soy and soy products contain chemicals called phyto-oestrogens. Researchers believe these might reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but more research is needed to confirm this.
A high intake of calcium (such as from dairy foods) may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. However, it’s important not to cut dairy products out altogether, as they provide essential calcium for healthy bones.
Research studies have looked into whether tomatoes and tomato products (such as ketchup) may help to protect against prostate cancer. This may be because they contain high levels of a substance called lycopene. Studies so far have shown mixed results and more research is needed.
Watch our video about the role of diet and the effect it can have on your risk of developing cancer.