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Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

All men are at risk for developing prostate cancer. About one man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, but only one man in 36 will die of this disease. About 80 percent of men who reach age 80 have prostate cancer cells in their prostate. Besides being male, there are other factors, such as age, race, and family history that may contribute to the risk. 

Age. The greatest risk factor for prostate cancer is age. This risk increases significantly after the age of 50 in white men who have no family history of the disease and after the age of 40 in black men and men who have a close relative with prostate cancer. About two-thirds of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men age 65 and older. The older the patient, especially if they are over 70, the less aggressive the disease usually behaves.

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Family history. Men whose relatives have had prostate cancer are considered to be at high risk. Having a father or brother with the disease more than doubles your risk for prostate cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Having a brother with prostate cancer appears to increase your risk more than having an affected father does. That risk is even higher when there are multiple family members affected. Screening for prostate cancer should be started at age 40 in these men.

Studies have identified several inherited genes that appear to increase prostate cancer risk. Testing for most of these genes is not yet available. Experts estimate that the hereditary form of prostate cancer accounts for just 5% to 10% of all cases.

Race. Prostate cancer occurs about 60% more often in African-American men than in white American men, and when it is diagnosed, the cancer is more likely to be advanced. However, Japanese and African males living in their native countries have a low incidence of prostate cancer. Rates for these groups increase sharply when they immigrate to the U.S. African-Americans are the second group of men for whom prostate cancer testing should begin at age 40.

Some experts theorize that this suggests an environmental connection, possibly related to high-fat diets, less exposure to the sun, exposure to heavy metals such as cadmium, infectious agents, or smoking. To date, the reasons for these racial differences are not understood.

Diet. Research also suggests high dietary fat may be a contributing factor for prostate cancer. The disease is much more common in countries where meat and dairy products are dietary staples compared to countries where the basic diet consists of rice, soybean products, and vegetables.

Read more about eating healthy foods, especially as related to cancer prevention.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD, FACP on July 31, 2013
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