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Prostate Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the prostate. The prostate is a small gland found only in men. It is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum in the lower pelvis.

Prostate anatomy
Credit: American Cancer Society

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among men and is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in every 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime and most of these deaths occur among older men.

Some prostate cancers grow very slowly and may not cause signs or symptoms for years. Even when prostate cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it often can be managed, allowing men with advanced prostate cancer to live with good health and quality of life for several years.

Types of Prostate Cancer

Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas, accounting for more than 95% of all cases. These cancers develop from the gland cells (the cells that make the prostate fluid that is added to the semen).

Other types of prostate cancer include:

  • Sarcomas.
  • Small cell carcinomas.
  • Neuroendocrine tumors (other than small cell carcinomas).
  • Transitional cell carcinomas.

These other types of prostate cancer are rare. If you have prostate cancer it is almost certain to be an adenocarcinoma.

Causes and Risk Factors of Prostate Cancer

The exact cause of prostate cancer is not known, but research has shown that several factors may play a role, including age, genetics, race, diet, and obesity.

Of these risk factors, some may be modified or changed like lifestyle factors, while others, such as age, genetics, and race can not be changed.


Age is considered a major risk factor for prostate cancer. The chance of prostate cancer raise after a man reaches the age of 50. About 6 in 10 prostate cancer cases are found in men over the age of 65.


Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as white men. This may be due to a mixture of inherited genes and environmental factors, although its relationship is not clear.

Family history

Men who have family members with prostate cancer are more likely to get prostate cancer. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

That’s because you may have inherited damaged DNA. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 5-10 percent of prostate cancer cases are caused by inherited mutations. It’s been linked to inherited mutations in several different genes, including:

  • RNASEL, formerly known as HPCI
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2, which have also been linked to breast and ovarian cancer in women
  • MLH1, MSH2, and other DNA mismatch repair genes
  • HOXB13


The exact role of diet on prostate cancer is unclear, but many studies have shown that men who eat a lot of red meats or high-fat dairy products seem to have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. These men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Experts don’t know if the high levels of animal fat or the low levels of fruits and vegetables contribute more to dietary risk factors. More research is needed.


Some studies have found that obesity does not increase the overall risk of getting prostate cancer. However, obese men may be more likely to develop more aggressive forms of prostate cancer. The reasons for this are not clear.

Inflammation of the prostate

A few studies have suggested that prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer. It also makes prostate cancer grow and spread more quickly. The link between the two is not yet clear, and is an active area of research.

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