Know Your Prostate Cancer Risks
Certain factors can raise your risk of getting prostate cancer. Some are unavoidable, but lifestyle changes can lower your risk in other cases.

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Picture of late middle-aged man Know Your Prostate Cancer Risks

Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men.

Death rates from this cancer have leveled off since 1995, but some risk factors can still raise your chances of getting the disease.

Certain risks, such as heredity, can't be avoided. But you may be able to cut your risk in other cases by making lifestyle changes.

Non-modifiable risks
These are risk factors for prostate cancer that you cannot change.

Age. Age is the strongest risk factor for prostate cancer. The disease is rare before age 40. But the chance of getting it rises rapidly after age 50. More than 70 percent of men diagnosed are older than 65.

Family history. If your father or brother has had prostate cancer, your chance of getting it more than doubles. The risk goes up even more if you've had several affected relatives, especially if any were diagnosed under age 60.

Race/ethnicity. African American men and Jamaican men of African descent have the highest prostate cancer incidence rates in the world. African-American men are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as white men. This may be because of finding the cancer when the disease is more advanced.

The disease occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in whites.

Nationality. Prostate cancer is most common in:

  • North America
  • Northwestern Europe
  • Australia
  • Caribbean islands

It is less common in:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Central America
  • South America

The reasons for these differences are not clear, though more screening in developed countries may help identify more cases. Lifestyle or diet differences may play a role, too. For instance, men of Asian descent living in the United States have a lower risk for the disease than white Americans, but their risk is higher than men of similar ethnic backgrounds living in Asia.

Modifiable risks
These are risk factors that you can control.

Diet. Men who eat lots of red meat or high-fat dairy products seem to have slightly higher chances of getting prostate cancer. But these men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. It is not known which of these factors raises the risk for prostate cancer.

Obesity. Being obese is not linked with a higher risk of getting prostate cancer. But some studies on obese men who get the disease have found other connections. For instance, obese men with prostate cancer may have a higher risk of having a more aggressive form of the disease. They may also be at greater risk of dying from their prostate cancer. More research is needed to find out the complex connection between prostate cancer and obesity. Much more is known about how obesity can lead to other conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Getting to and maintaining an ideal weight will contribute to your overall health even if there proves to be no direct connection with prostate cancer.

Exercise. Most studies have shown that exercise does not cut prostate cancer risk. But some find that high levels of physical activity, especially in older men, may lower the risk of an advanced form. Again, more research is needed before guidelines can be made about exercise and prostate cancer. Exercise, though, is known to lower the risk for other chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Ask your doctor how much exercise is right for you.

Screening benefits?
Death rates because of prostate cancer have continued to decline since the 1990s. This may be because of greater disease awareness and improved screening methods, however it is not clear.

Discussing the pros and cons of screening with your doctor is the best place to start. Other points to consider:

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recognizes prostate screening is a personal decision because it is not clear that the benefits are greater than the possible harms. In men 75 and older, though, the USPSTF found that screening offered few health benefits and could lead to physical and psychological harm. The PSA screening is not recommended for men older than age 75, according to the USPSTF.

It is important to note that other U.S. medical organizations, such as the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend the decision for prostate cancer screening be an informed decision made with your doctor as well. The ACS does go on to recommend men, at age 50, with average risk for prostate cancer should talk to their doctor about when the right time is to start screening for them. Those men, of higher risk for prostate cancer should talk to their doctor at age 45. Men considered at higher risk are those that are African American or if you have two or more first-degree relatives - such as a father, brother or son - who've had prostate cancer. Screening may be started at age 40 for men considered at an even higher risk - those men who have several close relatives who were diagnosed with prostate cancer when they were younger than age 65.

Concerning the two screening tests, the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test and the digital rectal examination (DRE), the ACS stresses that after discussion, and the determination that you need to be screened, that a PSA test should be done. You doctor will then help you decide if you also need a DRE. If you choose to be tested, the ACS recommends you be retested either yearly or every two years, depending upon the results of the first PSA. Your doctor will guide you on the appropriate screening interval.

Again, all men should discuss the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening with their personal doctor.
By Howard Seidman, Contributing Writer
Created on 01/22/2004
Updated on 07/12/2012
  • American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society recommendations for prostate cancer early detection.
  • National Cancer Institute. Early prostate cancer.
  • National Cancer Institute. Prostate cancer.
  • American Cancer Society. What are the risk factors for prostate cancer?
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