Find support groups, events and resources near you

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

All men are at risk for prostate cancer, but there are some factors that can increase your risk. Take our quiz to find your personal risk.

Speedometer with the needle pointing to high risk
Blue Earth Diagnostics Logo

Prostate cancer risk factors

With approximately 1 in 8 men diagnosed in their lifetime, prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among men. Understanding the various risk factors for prostate cancer is crucial for early detection and prevention. While some risk factors, such as age and family history, cannot be changed, others, like occupational hazards, can be managed through awareness and proactive measures. 

If you don't have these risk factors, that doesn't mean you can't get prostate cancer. Remember, all men are at risk for prostate cancer.

This comprehensive guide aims to educate at-risk individuals, those with a family history of prostate cancer, and men in high-risk professions, such as firefighters and veterans, about their unique risk factors and the importance of regular screening and lifestyle modifications. By empowering men with knowledge and resources, we hope to improve prostate cancer outcomes and support those navigating their risk.

Age as a prostate cancer risk factor

Age is a significant risk factor for prostate cancer, with the likelihood of developing the disease increasing as men grow older. According to the American Cancer Society, about 60% of all prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and the average age at diagnosis is 66. While prostate cancer is rare in men under 40, the risk rapidly increases after age 50. By age 80, the chance of developing prostate cancer is nearly 60%. 

Due to the strong correlation between age and prostate cancer risk, regular screening is crucial for older men. The American Urological Association recommends that men aged 45 to 50 discuss prostate cancer screening with their healthcare provider to determine if it is right for them based on their individual risk factors and preferences.

Family history and genetic factors

Risk for prostate cancer can run in families, and family history and genetic factors play a significant role in prostate cancer risk. Men with a first-degree relative (father, brother, or son) diagnosed with prostate cancer have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of developing the disease compared to the general population. This risk increases further if multiple family members are affected or if the relative was diagnosed at a young age. 

It is also important to know about a family history of breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancers. Certain genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are more commonly associated with breast and ovarian cancer, can also increase the risk of prostate cancer. Men with these mutations may have a 2 to 5 times higher risk of prostate cancer than the general population. It is crucial for men to share their family history of prostate cancer with their healthcare providers, as this information can guide decisions about when to start screening and how often to screen. 

For men with a family history of prostate cancer, especially those with multiple affected relatives or a relative diagnosed at a young age, healthcare providers may recommend starting prostate cancer screening at an earlier age (e.g., 40-45) and screening more frequently than the general population.

It is estimated that inherited gene changes – those passed down by parents – account for approximately 10% of prostate cancers. Learn more about genes, genetic testing, and prostate cancer.

Race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are important factors in prostate cancer risk, with African American men facing a higher risk compared to other racial and ethnic groups. African American men are about 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2.1 times more likely to die from the disease compared to non-Hispanic white men. Black men in the U.S. and Caribbean have the highest prostate cancer incidence rates in the world.

While the exact reasons for these racial disparities are not fully understood, potential factors may include differences in genetic susceptibility, access to healthcare, socioeconomic status, and lifestyle factors. Some studies suggest that African American men may have a higher prevalence of certain genetic mutations that increase prostate cancer risk, such as variations in the 8q24 chromosome region. Additionally, disparities in access to high-quality healthcare and prostate cancer screening may contribute to later-stage diagnoses and poorer outcomes among African American men. 

Find more information about Black men and prostate cancer.

Given the higher risk faced by African American men, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of regular prostate cancer screening and early detection in this population. Healthcare providers should engage in culturally sensitive discussions about prostate cancer risk and screening options, and community outreach efforts should focus on increasing awareness and access to screening services for high-risk populations.

Read more about ZERO's efforts to achieve health equity in prostate cancer.

Occupational risk factors

Certain occupations may be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer due to exposure to hazardous substances or environmental factors. Firefighters and veterans are two professions that have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. Studies have shown that firefighters may have a 28% higher risk of prostate cancer compared to the general population, possibly due to exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins, which are released during fires. Similarly, veterans may face a higher risk of prostate cancer due to exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used during the Vietnam War, which has been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including prostate cancer.

Other occupations that may be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer include farmers, pesticide applicators, and workers in the rubber and tire industry, potentially due to exposure to pesticides, cadmium, and other chemicals. Nuclear plant workers and radiologists may also face an increased risk due to exposure to ionizing radiation.


Exposure to chemicals can add to prostate cancer risk and severity. Studies have shown Vietnam and Korean War Veterans with exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange have a higher occurrence of prostate cancer.

Veterans are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who have never served in the military. Prostate cancer is the most common malignancy in Veterans, diagnosed in approximately 11,000 men in the VA system each year.

Veterans with prostate cancer who were exposed to herbicides during active service may be eligible for disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Learn more about support resources for Veterans, including VA benefits.

Firefighters & other chemical exposure

In addition to Veterans, other groups of people may have a heightened risk of developing prostate cancer due to chemical exposures. 

Some studies have shown firefighters have a 15%  greater risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer when compared to non-firefighters. This includes both volunteer and career firefighters. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies occupational exposure as a firefighter as “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1). The IARC Group 1 classification is used when there is the strongest level of evidence that something can cause cancer. This rating includes all cancer types, with prostate cancer having limited evidence; more research is needed. 

Others at increased risk due to chemical exposure include:

  • Farmers and other men who work with large amounts of pesticides
  • Those who are frequently exposed to the metal cadmium like welders, battery manufacturers, and rubber workers

Lifestyle factors

While some prostate cancer risk factors, such as age and family history, are beyond our control, lifestyle factors can play a role in influencing prostate cancer risk. Research suggests that diet, exercise, and other lifestyle choices may impact the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.


Studies have shown that diets high in saturated fats, processed meats, and dairy products may be associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer. On the other hand, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins may help reduce the risk. Some specific nutrients, such as lycopene (found in tomatoes) and selenium, have been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Physical activity

Regular physical activity has also been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces inflammation, and regulates hormone levels, all of which may contribute to a lower risk of prostate cancer. Men who walk one to three hours 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%. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

To learn more about actionable steps you can take related to health, wellness, and nutrition visit our Health & Wellness in Prostate Cancer webpage.

Other lifestyle factors

Other lifestyle factors, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, have been linked to an increased risk of various cancers, including prostate cancer. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake may help reduce your overall cancer risk.

Obesity may be associated with a slight increase in the risk of getting prostate cancer. Being obese and overweight may be related to prostate cancer aggressiveness and development according to a handful of studies. Obesity may increase the long-term disease progression for men with low-risk prostate cancer who are on active surveillance.

It is important to note that while maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer, it cannot eliminate the risk entirely. As discussed earlier, other factors, such as age, family history, race and occupation, also play a significant role in prostate cancer risk. Therefore, it is essential to discuss your individual risk factors with your healthcare provider and to follow recommended screening guidelines, even if you lead a healthy lifestyle.