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Understanding your prostate cancer risk

Are you at risk for developing prostate cancer in your lifetime? Learn about the risk factors for prostate cancer. Understanding your risks can help you talk with your health care provider about what steps you may want to take.

Risk Factors

No one knows what causes prostate cancer, but certain factors increase your risk of getting it.

  • Age. Your risk increases as you get older. It is rare before 40 years old. Most prostate cancer occurs in men age 65 and older.
  • Family history. Having a father, brother, or son with prostate cancer increases your risk. Having one immediate family member with prostate cancer doubles a man's own risk. A man who has 2 or 3 first degree family members with prostate cancer is 11 times at greater risk than someone who has no family members with prostate cancer.
  • Race. African American men are at higher risk than men of other races and ethnicities. Prostate cancer may occur at a younger age, too.
  • Genes. Men with a BRCA1, BRCA2 gene mutation have a higher risk of prostate cancer and some other cancers. The role of genetic testing for prostate cancer is still being evaluated.
  • Hormones. Male hormones (androgens) like testosterone, may play a role in the development or aggressiveness of prostate cancer.

A Western lifestyle is linked with prostate cancer, and dietary factors have been intensively studied. However, results are inconsistent.

Having risk factors for prostate cancer does not mean you will get it. Some men with several risk factors never get prostate cancer. Many men without risk factors develop prostate cancer.

How to Reduce Your Risk

Most risks for prostate cancer, such as age and family history, cannot be controlled. Other areas are unknown or not yet proven. Experts are still looking at things like diet, obesity, smoking, and other factors to see how they may affect your risk.

As with many health conditions, staying healthy is your best defense against illness:

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • Eat a healthy low-fat diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

It is a good idea to talk with your provider before taking dietary supplements. Some studies have shown that certain supplements may increase the risk for prostate cancer, although this is unproven:

  • Selenium and vitamin E. Taken separately or together, these supplements may increase your risk.
  • Folic acid. Taking supplements with folic acid may increase your risk, but eating foods high in folate (a natural form of the vitamin) may help protect AGAINST prostate cancer.
  • Calcium. Getting high levels of calcium in your diet, either from supplements or dairy, may increase your risk. But you should talk with your provider before cutting back on dairy.

It is a good idea to talk with your health care provider about your risk for prostate cancer and what you can do about it. If you have a higher risk, you and your provider can talk though the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening to decide what is best for you.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you:

  • Have questions or concerns about your prostate cancer risk
  • Are interested or have questions about prostate cancer screening


Moyer VA, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for Prostate Cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(2):120-134. PMID: 22801674

National Cancer Institute website. Genetics of prostate cancer (PDQ) - Health professional version. Updated January 19, 2018. Accessed February 15, 2018.

National Cancer Institute website. Prostate cancer prevention (PDQ) - Patient version. Updated September 8, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2018.

National Cancer Institute website. National Institute of Health Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). SEER stat fact sheets: prostate cancer. Accessed February 15, 2018.

Qaseem A, Barry MJ, Denberg TD, Owens DK, Shekelle P; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Screening for prostate cancer: a guidance statement from the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(10):761-769. PMID: 23567643

        A Closer Look


        Review Date: 1/31/2018

        Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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