One of the keys to detecting prostate cancer early is understanding the most common risk factors. Since September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, this article will focus on raising awareness of early detection. By knowing which groups of men are most at risk, you’ll be better equipped to make educated decisions about when to begin screening and what to ask your doctor.
While all men are inherently at risk, there are several well-documented risk factors that increase your odds of being diagnosed. Most of these are broad generalizations based on certain demographics. They include age, race, geography, and family history. There are also some less clear risk factors that have more to do with a man’s lifestyle. We’ll get to those a little later. First, let’s go over the risk factors that are well known.
COMMON PROSTATE CANCER RISK FACTORS
The biggest prostate cancer risk factor is age. The older you get, the more your risk goes up. Prostate cancer is rare in men under the age of 40, but your risk quickly increases once you turn 50. Men over 65 years old have the greatest risk of developing prostate cancer. In fact, about 60% of all cases occur with men over 65.1
There is also clear data to show that your race/ethnicity is a factor. Prostate cancer is more common among African American men. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), not only are Black men more likely to develop prostate cancer, they’re also more than twice as likely to die from it. This is amplified by the fact that African American men are generally diagnosed at a younger age and the disease tends to be more advanced when it’s found.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) points out that people of Caribbean descent with African ancestry are also at greater risk. Contrastingly, prostate cancer is less common for Asian American and Hispanic/Latino men compared to White males. Although, the reasons for this difference are not yet clear.
The area of the world in which a man lives can also be a factor. For example, the disease is most common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia, and the Caribbean islands. However, it’s less common in Asia, Africa, and Central & South America. Researchers have not identified a definitive reason for these geographical discrepancies. However, the fact that there is more intensive prostate cancer screening in more developed countries is a likely contributor. Cultural differences, such as diet, could also play a role.
Prostate cancer does seem to run in some families, which indicates family history is also a risk factor. This is known as familial prostate cancer and makes up about 20% of all cases.1 It’s likely a result of shared genes, as well as shared environmental and lifestyle factors.
If your dad or brother have a history of prostate cancer, your risk of developing the disease is about two to three times higher. That risk increases as the number of relatives who’ve had prostate cancer goes up.
Still, it’s important to note most prostate cancer cases do not have a family history. So, just because you may not have a family history, doesn’t mean you are not at risk.
Inherited gene mutations have been linked to several types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, and prostate. While it is possible that genetic mutations can be passed down from one generation to the next, this accounts for just 5% of prostate cancer cases.1
OTHER POTENTIAL RISK FACTORS
As we mentioned earlier, in addition to the well-documented demographic factors, there are several possible prostate cancer risk factors linked to a man’s lifestyle. It’s important to note that the following factors have not been proven to cause prostate cancer.
The ACS lists several factors that studies have attempted to link to prostate cancer. These include diet, obesity, smoking, chemical exposures, prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), sexually transmitted infections, and having a vasectomy. Some studies have attempted to show a link between these behaviors and the risk of developing or dying from prostate cancer. Still, several other studies have been inconclusive.
Changing Your Diet
One of the more common questions men have is whether changes in diet could help slow, or even stop, the development of prostate cancer.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) points out there is not enough information to make clear recommendations. However, while there are no studies that prove nutrition can cause or prevent prostate cancer, several clinical trials explore the link between certain eating behaviors and cancer, which may suggest a connection.
Some of the possible links, or lack thereof, the ASCO mentions include:
- A diet high in fat, especially animal fat, may be associated with an increased prostate cancer risk. Again though, no studies have definitively proven that connection.
- Eating more vegetables, fruits, and legumes may actually lower your risk. One particular nutrient, lycopene, stands out as being potentially beneficial. This is an antioxidant found in red and pink fruits like tomatoes, watermelons, and grapefruits. Still, there is no conclusive data proving the relationship between lycopene and cancer prevention.
- There have been no clinical trials that show any specific vitamins, minerals, or supplements can prevent prostate cancer.
- Making specific dietary changes doesn’t necessarily stop or slow the development of prostate cancer. In fact, existing data suggests that, even if it did, those changes would most likely have to be made early in life to have any impact.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION
Now that you have a better understanding of the common risk factors, it’s important to use that knowledge to make well-informed decisions regarding prostate cancer. General guidelines recommend men begin routine prostate cancer screening at the age of 55. However, if you fall into any of these higher-risk groups, consult your physician and ask whether you should start earlier.
If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s also important to understand all your treatment options. Common prostate cancer treatments include proton therapy, surgery, hormone therapy, brachytherapy (seed implants), and traditional x-ray radiation. Proton therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical prostate cancer treatment option that has been shown to lower your risk of side effects during and after treatment.
1. Prostate Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2020 September. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/prostate-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention
2. Prostate Cancer Risk Factors. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
3. Who is at Risk for Prostate Cancer? Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/risk_factors.htm