What to Know About Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

Prostate cancer statistics show it is the second leading cancer among men (behind skin cancer). It is most commonly diagnosed in men over age 65, but the risk especially increases past age 50. As with any modern disease, it’s important to understand prostate cancer risk factors, screening guidelines, and lifestyle changes that may help with prevention.

We’ll cover some of the basic facts about prostate cancer risk below.

7 Prostate Cancer Risk Factors All Men Should Know

A cancer risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing the disease. A risk factor—or even several risk factors—does not mean they will cause cancer. But by understanding our risk factors, we can address problems early and help prevent those we have control over.

Below are the biggest prostate cancer risk factors.

1. Age

Over 80% of prostate cancer diagnoses occur in men who are age 65 or older. Men over age 50 (or by age 40 or 45 if they are high risk) are encouraged to talk to their doctor about screening.

2. Family History

If a man’s father, brother, or son has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, their risk is two to three times higher than average. The risk increases more if other relatives are also diagnosed.

Familial prostate cancer (when prostate cancer runs in a family) can happen due to a combination of lifestyle choices and genes. Prostate cancer running in a family happens about 20% of the time.

It’s rare for prostate cancer to be caused by gene changes passed down through a family, although that could be the case if a man has:

  • Three generations of his family (on the same side) diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • At least three first-degree relatives who were diagnosed
  • Two or more close relatives on the same side diagnosed before age 55

3. Ethnicity

For unknown reasons, African American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer earlier and more aggressively compared with white men. Prostate cancer also happens most frequently in North America and northern Europe, although it is increasing in other populations as they become more sedentary and eat a less nutritious diet.

4. Diet and Lifestyle

Studies that examine connections between cancer and diet have suggested a possible link between prostate cancer and eating choices. Obesity is also linked to prostate cancer and many other cancers.

This is a risk factor that men may be able to control by making smart changes to their diet and lifestyle behaviors.

5. Men with HBOC

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome is most commonly discussed in relation to women, as it is linked to the mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. But men can also have HBOC.

Men with HBOC have a greater risk of both breast cancer and an aggressive type of prostate cancer. For this reason, they are encouraged to begin screening at an early age.

6. Being Exposed to Agent Orange

Agent Orange was a tactical herbicide used by the United States military during the Vietnam War. According to a 2013 study by the Portland VA Medical Center and Oregon Health and Science University, veterans exposed to the substance have a higher risk and are more likely to develop the aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Anyone who may have been exposed to Agent Orange should talk to their doctors.

7. Having Genes that May Be Linked to Prostate Cancer

Certain genes may increase the risk of getting prostate cancer, although none are known to directly cause it. Those genes include:

  • HPC1
  • HPC2
  • HPCX
  • CAPB
  • ATM

It will take time before we can truly use this information for prevention or early detection. Perhaps in the future, we will have better genetic testing for prostate cancer risk.

Can Lifestyle Choices Affect Prostate Health?

Based on the current research, here’s what we know about the link between diet/lifestyle and prostate cancer risk:

  • Eating foods that are high in unhealthy fats—especially animal fat—may increase risk.
  • Consuming many fruits, vegetables, and beans and legumes may decrease risk.
  • The nutrients zinc, calcium, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, alanine, and glycine may play important roles in supporting the prostate and its functions.
  • Maintaining a balanced lifestyle (such as a healthy weight, staying physically active daily, avoiding excess refined sugars and junk foods, and decreasing stress) may help in reducing overall cancer risk.

Screening may also be important, although it depends on many factors. The digital rectal examination (DRE) and PSA blood test are the two most common screening tests for prostate cancer. The guidelines for screening have changed throughout the years, so it’s best to consult with your doctor based on your personal risk.

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