Dietary Fat and Prostate Cancer: What’s the Link?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 12, 2022
4 min read

In many countries around the world, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men.

The food you eat could lower your chances of getting prostate cancer. It may also even stop or slow the disease from spreading. Researchers think a combination of poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity contribute to around one-third of cancer deaths in the U.S.

They’ve specifically looked at the link between dietary fat and prostate cancer and have found that it may play a role in developing the illness.

It’s clear by now that our food – certain ingredients, how we cook it, and how much of it we eat – has a hand in our health. But it’s tough to know how individual foods or food components impact us. That’s because the ingredients that make up what you eat come together to influence each other and you.

Here’s what we do know: Western diets are often high in fat, especially animal fat. And some research shows a connection between high-fat diets and health conditions like prostate cancer. Plus, Western diets may boost the hormone testosterone, which scientists also link to certain forms of prostate cancer.

One large-scale study found a link between saturated fat and a higher chance of advanced prostate cancer and death from the disease. But there was no connection to early-stage prostate cancer. Margarine, butter, beef, milk, and other dairy products were the primary sources of saturated fat for people in the study.

The findings of this study reflect further research that shows a relationship between saturated fat and prostate cancer – both advanced and early-stage. Other smaller studies haven’t found a link.

There’s still a lack of research on why a high-fat diet might raise your chance of this type of cancer. One idea is that some people have higher amounts of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which plays a role in cancer growth. Scientists are also examining how inflammation, hormone imbalances, and a buildup of lipids (molecules) from a high-fat diet contribute to prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer affects some groups at higher rates than others, and researchers are looking at whether diet plays a role.

Doctors diagnose American men with prostate cancer more often than any other cancer. Black men have a 70% higher chance of having the disease and are twice as likely to lose their life to it than white men. Black men also tend to get prostate cancer at a younger age and have more aggressive forms of the illness.

Asian men in Japan and China have lower prostate cancer rates than men in the United States. But researchers have noted that Asian men’s risk of getting prostate cancer goes up when they move to the U.S.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes these differences between different groups, but they’re examining lifestyle choices, including what we eat. Right now, there’s not much evidence to show that diet, including dietary fat, raises your odds of getting the disease based on race or ethnicity. Instead, your chances may go up due to your genes and other reasons. Researchers need to study the topic more in larger, more diverse groups.

The food you eat contains four major kinds of dietary fats. They include:

  • Saturated fats, which are usually solid at room temperature.
  • Trans fats, which mainly come from processed food. You’ll see them labeled “partially hydrogenated oils” on food packages.
  • Monounsaturated fats, or fat molecules that contain one unsaturated carbon bond. You can tell if an oil is monosaturated if it remains liquid at room temperature but becomes solid at lower temperatures, like olive oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fats, or fat molecules that have multiple carbon bonds.

Some experts say the type of fat you eat makes more difference than the amount. They suggest you include the following:

  • Monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids: Avocados, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios), and certain cooking oils (extra-virgin olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, and macadamia nut oil)
  • Polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids: Cold-water fish (salmon, sardines, black cod, trout, and herring) and seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds)

Meanwhile, it’s best to avoid or limit these fats in your diet:

  • Polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids: Red meat, poultry skin, butter, egg yolks, whole milk, whole-milk dairy products (cheese, ice cream), vegetable oils (corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil), and processed foods cooked in vegetable oils
  • Trans fats: Margarine, fried foods, peanut butter containing trans fats, salad dressings, processed bread, crackers, cereals, and cookies.

Focus on eating plant-based protein with every meal while cutting back on processed meats, fatty meats, and full-fat dairy. Mix in some healthy fats from nuts, avocado, fish, and seeds for better prostate health.