Inherited cancers: prostate cancer

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. 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 is a family link. Your GP can talk to you about your family history.

Your GP 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.

Family history and 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 prostate cancer can sometimes run in families.

In general, the chance of there being a family link is greater when:

  • a number of family members have been diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • the family members were diagnosed at a young age
  • the family members are closely related.

You might be at increased risk if you have:

  • one first-degree relative who developed prostate cancer at or under the age of 60 (first-degree relatives are your father, brothers, or sons)
  • two or more close relatives on the same side of the family who developed prostate cancer (a close relative is a first-degree relative or a second-degree relative, such as a grandfather, grandson, uncle and nephew).

Inherited genes and prostate cancer

Experts think that less than 1 in 10 prostate cancers are linked to inherited genes. There isn’t one specific ‘prostate cancer gene’ that explains most of the cases of hereditary prostate cancer. Instead, it is thought that changes (alterations) in several genes may be involved. Each alteration only has a very small effect on a man’s risk.

But men who have inherited several of these genetic alterations may have an increased risk of prostate cancer. Scientists are trying to develop a test that could identify men who are at a higher risk of this cancer. But a test isn’t available in the UK yet.

In a small number of men, prostate cancer is linked to alterations in the BRCA1 or, more often, the BRCA2 gene. These alterations are also linked to some breast and ovarian cancers. If you have a relative with prostate cancer and there is also a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer on the same side of the family, this may be due to an alteration in these genes.

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

If you are worried that your family history may increase your risk of prostate cancer, talk to your GP. They may be able to reassure you or refer you to a clinical genetics service or a family cancer clinic.

We have more information about genetic testing.

There was some history of prostate cancer in my family. So on my next visit to my GP, I asked what his advice was about me having some tests done.


Risk of prostate cancer

Most men who develop prostate cancer don’t have a strong family history of it. Other factors can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.


The strongest risk factor for prostate cancer is increasing age. More than 1 in 3 men (36%) diagnosed with prostate cancer are aged 75 or over. Prostate cancer is rare in younger men.

Only 1 in 100 men (1%) diagnosed with prostate cancer are under the age of 50.


Some ethnic groups have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. Black men from an African-Caribbean or African background are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men. Asian men have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

Weight and height

Being overweight does not increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer. However, men who are overweight may be more likely to have a fast-growing prostate cancer, or develop advanced prostate cancer (cancer which has spread beyond the prostate gland). Taller men may have an increased risk of this cancer.

Be prostate aware

Most prostate problems are not caused by cancer. But you should talk to your GP if you:

  • have a weak flow of urine, perhaps stopping and starting
  • have difficulty in starting to pass urine
  • are passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
  • feel an urgent need to pass urine
  • feel you’ve not fully emptied your bladder after passing urine
  • have pain when passing urine
  • have blood in your urine or semen.

These symptoms are usually caused by non-cancerous changes in the prostate rather than by cancer.

You can find more information about prostate problems at Prostate Cancer UK or by calling 0800 074 8383.

Tests for prostate cancer

There isn’t an organised screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK. Your doctor can talk to you about the benefits and disadvantages of having tests to check for prostate cancer.

These tests may include the PSA test. This is a blood test that measures the level of a protein in your blood called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). You may also have a digital rectal examination (DRE). During a DRE, the doctor gently inserts a gloved finger into your back passage to feel the prostate gland. If there is cancer in the prostate, it can feel different.

The PSA test isn’t a test for prostate cancer. It’s a test for prostate problems, one of which may be cancer.

There are still questions about how reliable PSA testing is and whether treatment is always necessary for early prostate cancer.

To help you decide whether having the PSA test is right for you, the NHS has a programme called Prostate Cancer Risk Management (PCRMP).

You can find out more about this programme at GOV.UK

Dave carries his golf clubs to his car. Dave on diagnosis

'Fortunately the cancer was very low grade and not aggressive, but the initial reaction was terror.'