Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

A better understanding of prostate cancer risk factors can lead to better identification and treatment of prostate cancer. This section will explore established genetic factors as well as likely environmental factors that influence risk.

A better understanding of prostate cancer risk factors can lead to better identification and treatment of prostate cancer. This section will explore established genetic factors as well as likely environmental factors that influence risk.

Genetic Risk Factors

Age is the best established risk factor for prostate cancer. While only 1 in 10,000 men under the age of 40 will be diagnosed, these rates increase to 1 in 38 for ages 40 to 59, 1 in 14 for ages 60 to 69, and 1 in 7 for ages 70 and older.

Family history and race are also well-established risk factors for prostate cancer. For example, a man with a father or brother who developed prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease. Further, men of Scandinavian descent are at high risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Similarly, men of African descent are more likely to die from prostate cancer than European Caucasian men, while Asian men who live in Asia have the lowest risk.

Still, research finds that when Chinese and Japanese men move to a western culture, their prostate cancer risk increases substantially. Additionally, a large twin study in Scandinavia determined that heritable factors account for only approximately 42% of prostate cancer risk. Both of these findings demonstrate the importance of environmental factors in assessing prostate cancer risk.

HoxB13. Recently a rare genetic mutation has been found that is associated with prostate cancer. The mutation lies in a gene called HoxB13. Men who inherit a genetic variant in HoxB13 (G84E or rs138213197) have a 10-20-fold increased risk of prostate cancer.

The distribution of this genetic mutation varies by geographic regions with the highest frequency of mutations seen in northern European and Scandinavian populations. The highest frequency of these mutations are in men with family histories of prostate cancer and among men with early onset prostate cancer. It is important to know your family history to determine if you may be at increased risk of

Environmental Risk Factors

It seems clear that environmental factors do contribute to prostate cancer risk. Indeed, scientists are actively investigating the effects of several such factors, which are listed below. However, it should be pointed out that these research findings are less robust than the genetic findings.

First, people with greater exposure to sunlight have a lower risk of prostate cancer. For example, in the United States, men living in colder cities (north of 40 degrees latitude) have the highest risk of dying from prostate cancer than any men in the United States. This effect seems to be explained by inadequate sunlight during the winter months. It is likely that vitamin D levels, which are influenced by sun exposure, contribute to prostate cancer risk. For men living in northern climates, 20 minutes of exposure to the sun each day is important for maintaining good vitamin D levels.

New research also suggests that diet may play a role in modifying prostate cancer risk. Potential beneficial dietary factors include lycopene (a red dye found in tomatoes and red fruits), vitamin E, cruciferous vegetables, fish, meats, dairy, fats, and nutritional supplements and herbal products. However, more research is needed to better determine the influence of diet on prostate cancer.

Non-Risk Factors: Clearing Up Common Misconceptions

The following conditions will not increase the risk for developing prostate cancer:

  • The presence of non-cancerous conditions—like Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and Prostatitis
  • High levels of sexual activity/frequent ejaculation
  • Having a vasectomy