Inherited cancers: prostate cancer

Most prostate cancer isn’t caused by inherited cancer genes and most men who get prostate cancer don’t have a family history of it. But sometimes prostate cancer can run in families.

In general, the more men in a family who’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the younger they were diagnosed and the more closely related they are, the more likely it is there’s is a family link. Your GP can talk to you about your family history.

They can also help you look for the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. They will discuss whether or not you would benefit from having a PSA test, a blood test used to check for problems in the prostate, or a digital rectal examination (DRE) to check the prostate.

Scientists are researching ways of testing men to find out if they are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. But there is not a test in the UK at the moment.

How does family history affect prostate cancer risk?

Most prostate cancers aren’t caused by inherited cancer genes and most men who get prostate cancer don’t have a family history of it.

If you have just one relative who developed prostate cancer at an older age, your risk is unlikely to be very different from other men the same age as you. But sometimes prostate cancer can run in families.

In general, the more men in a family who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the younger they were when diagnosed, and the more closely related they are, the more likely it is there’s a family link.

Examples of a family history that may mean you are at increased risk of developing prostate cancer include having:

  • One first-degree relative who developed prostate cancer at or under the age of 60. A first-degree relative is a father, brother or son.
  • Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family who developed prostate cancer. A close relative is a father, brother, son, grandfather, uncle or nephew.

Experts think that 5-15% of prostate cancers are linked to inherited gene changes that increase the risk of developing it.

There isn’t one specific ‘prostate cancer gene’ that explains most of the cases of hereditary prostate cancer. Instead, it’s thought that variations in several genes may be involved. Each variation only has a very small effect on a man’s risk. But men who have inherited several of these genetic variations may have a significantly increased risk of prostate cancer.

Scientists are trying to develop a test that could identify men who are at higher risk. But a test isn’t available in the UK yet.

In a small number of men, prostate cancer is linked to the breast and ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and, particularly, BRCA2. So, if you have a relative with prostate cancer and there is also a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer in the same side of the family, this may be due to a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

However, most families with a strong history of prostate cancer don’t have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

If a close relative has been diagnosed at a younger age, or more than one close relative has had prostate cancer, you may want to discuss this with your GP. They may be able to reassure you or refer you to a clinical genetics service or a family cancer clinic if needed.


Regular checks for prostate cancer

Your doctor can also discuss with you the benefits and disadvantages of having screening tests to check for prostate cancer. Screening may include the PSA test, which is a blood test to check the level of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in your blood. It may also involve a digital rectal examination (DRE), which is when the doctor gently inserts a gloved finger into your back passage to check for any abnormalities in the feel of the prostate gland.

We have information about the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer.


Back to Genetic testing and counselling

Inherited cancers

If a cancer occurs more often in a family than in the general population, some people in the family may have inherited a cancer susceptibility gene.

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome (LS) is a condition that can run in families. It increases the risk of bowel, womb and some other cancers.

Genetic counselling

A genetic consultation is a discussion with a person trained in genetics. They will advise you on your risk of developing cancer.

Genetic testing

You will only be offered genetic testing if your family history suggests you may have inherited an identified faulty gene.

OPERA tool

OPERA is an online information tool for people concerned about their inherited risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer.