The American Cancer Society defines a risk factor as anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. According to ACS, different cancers exhibit different risk factors. For example, unprotected exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, and smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, many people with one or more risk factors never develop cancer, while others who develop the disease have no known risk factors. It is important, however, that you know about risk factors so that you can try to change any unhealthy lifestyle behavior so you can choose to have the early detection tests for a potential cancer.
Although we don't yet completely understand the causes of prostate cancer, researchers have found several factors that increase the risk of developing this disease.
Age: The chance of having prostate cancer increases rapidly after age 50. More than 70% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. It is still unclear why this increase with age occurs for prostate cancer.
Race: Prostate cancer occurs almost 70% more often in African-American men than it does in white American men. Compared with men of other races, African-American men are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage. African-American men are twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as white men. The reasons for these race-based differences are not known.
Nationality: Prostate cancer is most common in North America and northwestern Europe. It is less common in Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America.
Diet: Men who eat a lot of red meat and have a lot of fat in their diet appear to have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer. These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more dairy products. Doctors are not sure which of these factors is responsible for increasing risk.
Several substances, including lycopenes (found in high levels in some fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon), vitamin E, and the mineral selenium may lower prostate cancer risk. Current studies are assessing whether or not these substances actually reduce risk.
Until such studies are completed, the best advice to lower prostate cancer risk is to eat less red meat and high-fat dairy products, and to eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
Physical Inactivity: Regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce prostate cancer risk.
Family History: Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, suggesting a genetic factor. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer doubles a man's risk of developing this disease. The risk is even higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young at the time of diagnosis.
Scientists have identified several inherited genes that seem to increase prostate cancer risk (see next section), but they probably account for only a small fraction of cases. Genetic testing for these genes is not yet available.
Some inherited genes increase risk for more than one type of cancer. For example, inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are the reason that breast and ovarian cancers are much more common in some families. The presence of these gene mutations also increases prostate cancer risk. But they are responsible for a very small percentage of prostate cancer cases.
Vasectomy: Some studies have suggested that men who have had a vasectomy (surgery to make men infertile) may have a slightly increased risk for prostate cancer, but this link has not been consistently found. Among the studies that noticed an increase in risk, some found this risk to be highest in men who were younger than 35 when they had a vasectomy.
Research to resolve this issue is still in progress. However, most recent studies have not found any increased risk among men who have had this operation, and fear of an increased risk of developing prostate cancer should not be a reason to avoid a vasectomy.
Support & Information
Medicine Net: Prostate Cancer
Association for the Cure of Cancer of the Prostate
National Prostate Cancer Coalition
Prostate Cancer Research Institute
YANA's Prostate Cancer Support Group
Prostate Cancer Education Council