Potential causes of prostate cancer

The number of men being diagnosed with prostate cancer has increased in recent years. This may be due to more people getting tested.

The causes of prostate cancer are unknown, but there are some risk factors that may increase your chances of developing the disease:

  • Age – as men get older the risk of prostate cancer increases. Prostate cancer is rare in men under 50.
  • Ethnicity – some ethnic groups have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer. Men of black African and black Caribbean descent are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Asian men are at lower risk.
  • Family history – about 5–15% prostate cancers may be linked to inherited gene changes but this isn’t the case for most men.
  • Diet – it’s thought that a diet high in animal fats and low in fruit and vegetables may increase your risk of developing prostate cancer.

If you are worried about the causes of prostate cancer you can talk to your GP about it.

Risk factors and causes

The number of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK (has increased in recent years. It is thought that this is because more men are having tests that detect very early prostate cancers that would previously not have been found. These tests include the PSA test. This is a blood test that measures a type of protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). A small amount of PSA is normally found in the blood, but men who have prostate cancer tend to have a high level of PSA in their blood.

The causes of prostate cancer are still unknown but there are some risk factors that increase a man’s chance of developing the disease.


Age

This is the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer. Men under 50 have a very low risk of prostate cancer. The risk increases as they get older. Approximately 75 in 100 prostate cancers (75%) are diagnosed in men aged 65 and over.


Ethnicity

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. The reason for this is unknown.


Family history

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’ve had only one relative who developed prostate cancer at an older age, your risk is likely to be very similar to that of 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.

It is thought that a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer is higher if they have:

  • 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 have had prostate cancer (a close relative is a father, brother, son, grandfather, uncle, nephew).

Experts think that 5–15 in 100 prostate cancers (5–15%) are linked to inherited gene changes that increase the risk of developing it.

There isn’t one specific ‘prostate cancer gene’ that can explain most of the cases of hereditary prostate cancer. It is thought that it may be linked to variations in several genes. 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.

‘My father and my paternal grandfather suffered from prostate cancer. When I was diagnosed, it wasn't entirely unexpected, but devastating nonetheless.’ Robert

Robert


Diet

Some evidence suggests that diet can affect your risk of prostate cancer, but this is not completely clear. Current thinking suggests that a diet high in animal fats may increase your risk of developing prostate cancer. Animal fats can be found in red meat (such as beef, lamb and pork) and dairy products (including butter, full-fat milk, cheese, eggs and cream).

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 cancer and other illnesses.