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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 cancers occur in men age 65 and older.
  • Family history. Having a father, brother, or son with prostate cancer increases your risk. Having a father with prostate cancer about doubles a man's own risk. Having a brother with prostate cancer about triples a man's own risk. A man who has 2 or more first degree family members with prostate cancer is 4.3 times at greater risk than someone who has no family members with prostate cancer.
  • Race. African American men have about twice the risk of 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 risk factors 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:

  • Vitamin E. Taken by itself, this supplement may increase your risk. It is not known if taking selenium with vitamin E reduces the 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 products, may increase your risk. But you should talk with your provider before cutting back on dairy products.

It is a good idea to talk with your 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

Contact your provider if you:

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


National Cancer Institute website. Genetics of prostate cancer (PDQ) - Health professional version. Updated February 15, 2024. Accessed February 19, 2024.

National Cancer Institute website. Prostate cancer prevention (PDQ) - Patient version. Updated October 20, 2023. Accessed February 19, 2024.

National Cancer Institute website. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). Cancer stat facts: prostate cancer. Accessed February 19, 2024.

US Preventive Services Task Force website. Final recommendation statement prostate cancer: screening. Released May 8, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2024.

Review Date 1/6/2022

Updated by: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in Hematology and Medical Oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Internal review and update on 02/20/2024 by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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