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Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (not counting skin cancer). It is also one of the leading causes of cancer death among men. Many of the risk factors for prostate cancer, such as your age, race, and family history can’t be controlled. But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer risk factors
A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.
But having a risk factor, or even several does not mean that you will get the disease. Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others who get cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.
Researchers have found several factors that might affect a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer:
Prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 40, but the chance of having prostate cancer rises rapidly after age 50. About 6 in 10 prostate cancers are found in men older than 65.
Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.
Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, which suggests that in some cases there may be an inherited or genetic factor. (Still, most prostate cancers occur in men without a family history of it.) Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease.
Several inherited gene changes (mutations) seem to raise prostate cancer risk, but they probably account for only a small percentage of cases overall.
Factors with less clear effect on prostate cancer risk
The exact role of diet in prostate cancer is not clear, but several factors have been studied. Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
Being obese (very overweight) does not seem to increase the overall risk of getting prostate cancer. Some studies have found that obese men have a lower risk of getting a low-grade (less dangerous) form of the disease, but a higher risk of getting more aggressive prostate cancer.
Most studies have not found a link between smoking and getting prostate cancer. Some research has linked smoking to a possible small increased risk of dying from prostate cancer, but this finding needs to be confirmed by other studies.
There is some evidence that firefighters can be exposed to chemicals that may increase their risk of prostate cancer.
Inflammation of the prostate
Some studies have suggested that prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, but other studies have not found such a link. Inflammation is often seen in samples of prostate tissue that also contain cancer. The link between the two is not yet clear and is an active area of research.
Sexually transmitted infections
Researchers have looked to see if sexually transmitted infections (like gonorrhea or chlamydia) might increase the risk of prostate cancer because they can lead to inflammation of the prostate. So far, studies have not agreed, and no firm conclusions have been reached.
Some studies have suggested that men who have a vasectomy (minor surgery to make men infertile) have a slightly increased risk for prostate cancer, but other studies have not found this. Research on this possible link is still being done.
Can prostate cancer be prevented?
There is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer. Many risk factors such as age, race, and family history can’t be controlled. But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk for this disease.
Body weight, physical activity, and diet
The effects of body weight, physical activity, and diet on prostate cancer risk are not clear, but there are things you can do that might lower your risk. Some studies have found that men who are overweight may have a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer overall, but a higher risk of prostate cancers that are likely to be fatal.
For now, the best advice about diet and activity to possibly reduce the risk of prostate cancer is to:
– Eat at least 2½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day
– Be physically active
– Stay at a healthy weight
Finding prostate cancer early
Screening refers to testing to find cancer in people before they have symptoms. For some types of cancer, screening can help find cancers at an early stage, when they are likely to be easier to treat.
Prostate cancer can often be found early by testing for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in a man’s blood. Another way to find prostate cancer early is the digital rectal exam (DRE), in which the doctor puts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate gland.
If the results of either one of these tests is abnormal, further testing is often done to see if a man has cancer. If prostate cancer is found as a result of screening with the PSA test or DRE, it will probably be at an earlier, more treatable stage than if no screening were done.