Your Risk for Prostate Cancer
The greatest risk factors for developing prostate cancer are increasing age, family history, ethnicity, and diet. Do any of the following describe you?
- I am older than 50
- I have a family history of prostate cancer
- I am African-American
If you answered yes to any of these, then you may be at higher risk of prostate cancer. However, not having any of these risk factors does not mean you are immune. Unfortunately, all men are at risk for prostate cancer. Keep reading to learn more about your risk and what steps you can take.
The risk of prostate cancer grows significantly as men grow older. ZERO, as well as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, recommends that men should start discussing prostate cancer risk and testing options with their doctors in their 40s, or even earlier if they have additional risk factors. The vast majority of men with prostate cancer are over 50, and a significant majority are over the age of 65. However, there are cases of prostate cancer in men in their 20s and 30s, some of which have been very aggressive.
Some men have a genetic predisposition to prostate cancer. A man with at least one close relative who has had the disease has twice the risk of having prostate cancer compared to the general population. Certain genes and gene mutations that put a man at higher risk for developing prostate cancer have been identified (BRCA 1, BRCA 2, DNA mismatch repair genes, and others). It is estimated that inherited gene changes account for approximately 10% of prostate cancers. Prostate cancer incidence among distant relatives on both sides of a man’s family may help predict whether he will develop the disease.
African-American men are 1.7 times more likely to get the disease and 2.1 times more likely to die from the disease than white men. The incidence of prostate cancer is 73% higher in non-Hispanic Black men than in non-Hispanic White men. Read more about African-American men and prostate cancer in the Racial Disparities section of our website.
Watch our video featuring prostate cancer survivor and ZERO’s Chairman of the Board Robert Ginyard and former ZERO Board Member Dr. Sanford Siegel from Chesapeake Urology discuss African-American men and prostate cancer.
Diet is a serious risk factor. Men who consume large amounts of fat – particularly animal fat – are most likely to develop prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is far more common in countries with a high intake of meat and dairy products compared to nations where diets largely consist of rice, soy, and vegetables.
Veterans & Chemical Exposure
Exposure to chemicals and defoliants can add to prostate cancer risk and severity. Studies have shown Vietnam and Korean War Veterans with exposure to defoliants like Agent Orange have a higher occurrence of prostate cancer. In fact, Veterans are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who have never served in the military. Read more about Veterans and prostate cancer here.
Farmers and other men who work with large amounts of pesticides can be at increased risk and those who are frequently exposed to metal cadmium like welders, battery manufacturers, and rubber workers are abnormally vulnerable to prostate cancer. There is some evidence that firefighters are also at higher risk.
Other Risk Factors
Obesity may be associated with a very slight increase in the risk of getting prostate cancer. According to the World Health Organization, a person with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is considered obese. Several studies have indicated that obesity is tied to prostate cancer aggressiveness. In particular, one study found that prostate cancer risk for African-American men may be more strongly affected by obesity than that in white men. A study released at the Canadian Urological Association annual meeting indicated that obesity may increase the long-term risk of disease progression for men with low risk prostate cancer who have chosen active surveillance. The risk of dying from prostate cancer is more than double in obese men diagnosed with the disease in comparison to with men of normal weight at the time of diagnosis. Obese men with local or regional disease have also been shown to have nearly four times the risk of their cancer spreading beyond the prostate.
Fortunately, regular physical activity and exercise have a positive impact on health and prostate cancer. Men who exercise the equivalent of only one to three hours of walking each week have an 86% lower risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Further research has demonstrated three or more hours of vigorous exercise lowered the risk of prostate cancer death by 61%. Learn more on our Physical Activity and Exercise page.
A study led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center found that men who took high doses of selenium and vitamin E had increased risk of high grade prostate cancer. The researchers found that men in the study who already had high levels of selenium nearly doubled their risk for prostate cancer by taking a selenium supplement. Men who already had low levels of selenium and took vitamin E also increased their risk.
Recent studies have shown that low levels of bisphenol A (BPA) during development may make men more susceptible to prostate cancer later in life. It is thought that early-life exposure to BPA sensitizes the prostate stem cells to estrogen and that estrogen sensitivity is passed along to prostate tissues later in life. In one study, a miniature model of a prostate was exposed to BPA and began to overproduce prostate stem cells, strongly reinforcing the potential link between early-life exposure to BPA and prostate cancer.