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Risks and causes

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK (not counting non melanoma skin cancer).

We don’t know what causes most prostate cancers. But there are some factors that might increase your risk of developing it.

Having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop cancer.

Prostate cancer is more common in older men. It is quite rare in men under 50. Between 2009 and 2011, around a third of all diagnoses in the UK were in men over 75. 

1 in 8 men in the UK will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives.

Prostate cancer is more common in black-African men than white men. It is least common in Asian men.  

Your risk of prostate cancer is higher if you have a close relative, such as a brother or father, who has had prostate cancer.

Some inherited genes can increase your risk of prostate cancer. These inherited genes are rare and account for only a small number of prostate cancers.

The risk increases by up to 5 times in men with the gene BRCA2. And the risk might increase with the BRCA1 gene. These genes also cause breast and ovarian cancers.

Men with a rare syndrome called Lynch syndrome have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer and some other cancers. A change in one of the genes that fixes mistakes in DNA causes this syndrome eg. MSH2 and MLH1 genes. 

Researchers are looking into other genes that might also increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Obese means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And being overweight means having a BMI of between 25 and 30.

Try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

There is some evidence that being active might help to lower your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of advanced prostate cancer. Researchers have found a link between being obese or overweight and cancers being higher grade (faster growing).

Taller men have a higher risk than shorter men of getting a faster growing (high grade) prostate cancer or prostate cancer that has spread.

Hormone levels may play a part in the risk of developing prostate cancer. Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) is a hormone our body makes. It regulates normal cell growth and death.

Studies have found that there is a higher risk of prostate cancer when there is a high level of IGF-1 in the body. A high level of IGF-1 doesn’t cause symptoms in men.

Men who have had certain cancers in the past might have a slightly increased risk of getting prostate cancer. The cancers include

  • kidney cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • lung cancer
  • thyroid cancer
  • melanoma skin cancer

Vasectomy is a way of sterilising men and is a type of permanent birth control. Your risk of getting prostate cancer is slightly higher if you have had a vasectomy compared to men who haven’t.

Inflammation of the prostate gland is called prostatitis. The evidence on whether prostatitis causes prostate cancer is mixed. Some studies suggest that there is a link between them but others don’t.

Cadmium and cadmium compounds are possible causes of prostate cancer. Cadmium is a type of metal that is in tobacco smoke and food. Non smokers are exposed to it through food. It is in most types of food including vegetables, meats, grains and fish.  

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence. There might be things you have heard of that we haven’t included here. This is because either there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.

For detailed information on prostate cancer risks and causes

Last reviewed: 
30 May 2015
  • Racial/ethnic differences in lifestyle-related factors and prostate cancer risk: the Multiethnic Cohort Study
    SY Park, CA Haiman, I Cheng and others
    Cancer Causes & Control, 2015 Aug; 26(10):1507 – 1515

  • An Epidemiological Reappraisal of the Familial Aggregation of Prostate Cancer: A Meta-Analysis
    M Kicinski, J Vangronsveld and TS Nawrot
    PLoS One, 2011 Oct; 6(10): e27130

  • Does physical activity reduce the risk of prostate cancer? A systematic review and meta-analysis
    Y Liu, F Hu, D Li and others
    European Urology, 2011 Nov; 60(5): 1029 – 1044

  • Pooled cohort study on height and risk of cancer and cancer death
    S Wiren, C Haggstrom, H Ulmer and others
    Cancer Causes & Control, 2013 Oct; 25(2): 151 – 159

  • Occurrence of both bladder and prostate cancer in five cancer registries in Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom
    E Kellen, MP Zeegers, M Dirx and others
    European Journal of Cancer, 2007 Jul; 43(11): 1694 – 1700

  • Vasectomy and Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer: A 24-Year Follow-Up Study

    MM Siddiqui, KM Wilson, MM Epstein and others
    Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2014 Sep; 32(27): 3033 – 3038

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​