Causes and risk factors of prostate cancer

Although we do not know what causes prostate cancer, certain risk factors may increase the chances of developing it.

What are risk factors?

Doctors do not know the exact causes of prostate cancer. But there are risk factors that can increase a man’s chance of developing it. Having one or more risk factors does not mean a man will get prostate cancer. Having no risk factors does not mean a man will not develop prostate cancer.

If you are worried about prostate cancer and would like to talk to someone, we're here. You can:


This is the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer. Men aged under 50 have a much lower risk of prostate cancer, although they can still develop it. The risk increases as men get older. More than half of all prostate cancers diagnosed in the UK are in men aged 70 and over.


Black men have a much higher risk of developing prostate cancer than white men. The reason for this is not clear, but it may be due to genetic factors. Black men are also usually diagnosed with prostate cancer at a younger age.

Prostate Cancer UK provide an information pack for black men aged 45 and over who are concerned about their risk. It gives advice on talking to your GP about your risk of prostate cancer, to help you to decide whether to have tests.

Asian men have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. The reason for this is unknown.

Family history

Most men who get prostate cancer do not have a family history of it. Getting older is much more likely to be the significant risk factor.

But occasionally there may be a possible family link (inherited).

A man’s risk of developing prostate cancer is higher if they have:

  • either a father or brother who had prostate cancer – the risk is greatly increased if they were diagnosed under the age of 60
  • 2 or more close relatives on the same side of the family who had prostate cancer – close relatives include a father, brother, grandfather, half-brother, and an uncle
  • certain inherited cancer gene changes (mutations).

We inherit our genes from our parents. Doctors think 5% to 10% of prostate cancers are linked to inherited gene changes (mutations). But they do not think there is a specific prostate cancer gene. It is thought that changes in a few genes are involved.

In a small number of men, prostate cancer may be linked to changes in the breast and ovarian cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Men with the BRCA2 gene mutation may have up to a 5 times higher risk of prostate cancer compared with the general population. The BRCA1 gene may also increase risk, but this is not as clear. Prostate cancer risk is also higher in men with Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).

Talk to your GP if you have a family history of cancer and are concerned about your prostate cancer risk.

We have more information about family history and cancer.

Body weight and diet

Being very overweight (obese) may increase the risk of having a more advanced prostate cancer. It may also increase the risk of having a fast-growing (high grade) type of prostate cancer.

A diet high in animal fats may increase the risk of prostate cancer. This includes foods like red meat (such as beef, lamb, and pork) and high-fat dairy products (such as butter, full-fat milk, cheese, and cream).

A healthy, balanced diet is better for your general health. For most people, this includes:

  • foods high in fibre (such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, oats, beans, and lentils)
  • lots of fruit and vegetables
  • less red meat and less processed meat (such as sausages, burgers, bacon, and ham)
  • less fat and less sugar.

Eating a balanced diet and doing regular physical activity keeps you to a healthy weight. This may reduce your risk of certain types of cancers and other conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

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About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our prostate cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    European Association of Urologists. Guidelines on Prostate Cancer. 2016.

    European Society for Medical Oncology. Cancer of the prostate: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. 2015.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Prostate cancer overview. Available from: (accessed from March 2017 to November 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Surveillance report 2016. Prostate cancer: diagnosis and management (2014). NICE guideline CG175. 2016.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editors, Dr Jim Barber, Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Dr Lisa Pickering, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.