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Prostate Cancer: Causes and Risk Factors
Learn about the causes of prostate cancer and what factors can increase your risk.

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What Is Prostate Cancer?

The prostate is a small gland underneath the bladder that only men have. It can cause health problems, especially cancer, later in life.

In many cases, a tumor that starts in the prostate grows slowly and causes few problems. In rarer instances, the cancer cells may be aggressive and spread outside of the prostate gland. The earlier cancerous cells are found, the more effective treatment is likely to be.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, prostate cancer is the second most common type of all cancer-related deaths among American men. Be aware of prostate cancer and know what the risk factors are.

What Are the Causes of Prostate Cancer?

As with all types of cancer, an exact cause of prostate cancer isn’t easy to pinpoint. There are often many factors, but ultimately what leads to the growth of cancerous cells are mutations in your DNA, or genetic material. These mutations cause normal cells in your prostate to start growing abnormally.

Abnormal or cancerous cells continue to grow and divide until a tumor develops. In cases of aggressive cancer, the cells may leave the original tumor and spread to other parts of the body.


In some cases, the mutations that lead to prostate cancer are inherited. If you have a family history of prostate cancer, you’re at greater risk of developing the disease because you may have inherited damaged DNA.

Approximately 5-10 percent of prostate cancer cases are caused by inherited mutations, according to the American Cancer Society. One such mutation is known as the hereditary prostate cancer gene 1, or HPC1. Other inherited mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, may also lead to a greater risk of developing prostate cancer.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Risk factors are life circumstances that increase your odds of having prostate cancer. For instance, having a family history of the disease is a risk factor.


One of the most telling risk factors for prostate cancer is age. The Prostate Cancer Foundation notes that just one in 10,000 men under the age of 40 will develop prostate cancer. That number jumps to one in 14 for men between the ages of 60 and 69. The majority of cases are diagnosed in men over 65.


Although the reasons are not fully understood, race is another risk factor for prostate cancer.

African-American men are twice as likely as Caucasian men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. They’re also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and to have a poor outlook.

Asian men and Latino men have the lowest incidences of prostate cancer.


A high-fat diet also seems to be a risk factor for prostate cancer, although it may only slightly increase the odds of developing the disease. Men who eat diets rich in animal fats tend to eat fewer vegetables and fruits. It’s uncertain whether it’s this deficiency or the higher amount of fats that contribute to the increased risk.


Where you live can also impact your risk for developing prostate cancer. Asian men in America not only have a lower incidence of the disease, but those living in Asia are even less likely to develop it.

Men living north of 40 degrees latitude are at a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer than men living anywhere else in the United States. This may be explained by the reduced amount of sunlight, and therefore vitamin D, that men in northern climates receive.

Risk Factors for Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Aggressive prostate cancers may be slightly different diseases than the more innocuous types. They share some of the same risk factors as low-risk prostate cancer, such as being African American and having a family history. 

Other factors are unique to aggressive types of prostate cancer, including:

  • smoking
  • being obese
  • having a sedentary lifestyle
  • consuming high levels of calcium

Myths About Prostate Cancer

Certain factors that were once considered risk factors for prostate cancer have no connection to the disease. Sexual activity, for instance, has no impact on developing prostate cancer. Having a vasectomy will also not increase your risk of having the disease. Alcohol doesn’t impact prostate cancer, and there seems to be no connection between smoking and non-aggressive varieties.

What’s My Outlook?

Although some cases of prostate cancer are aggressive, most are not. The majority of men diagnosed with this disease can expect a very good prognosis and will outlive the slow-growing cancer.

The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better the outlook and the more likely the treatments will be able slow cancer growth or eliminate it altogether. 

Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: [Ljava.lang.Object;@19ba7a0
Published: Sep 2, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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