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Prostate Cancer: Causes and Prevention

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD Updated: Jun 28th 2016

senior manWhile all men are capable of getting prostate cancer, researchers have discovered certain risk factors for the disease, some of which can be avoided or prevented and some of which are not controllable. Your personal risk of developing prostate cancer can be lessened if you are able to eliminate a number of the preventable risk factors.

Some of the uncontrollable risk factors for prostate cancer are:

Age. As a man gets older his chance for getting prostate cancer increases. It is uncommon to observe prostate cancer in men that are younger than 40 years of age, but prostate cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in men over 75 years old.

Nationality. Prostate cancer is most common in North America and Northwestern Europe. Regions like Asia, Africa, and South America have much lower incidences of the disease. Researchers now believe that the higher occurrence of prostate cancer in Europe and North America is due to the common diets in these regions which are often high in meats and fats and low in fruits, vegetables, and grains. On the other hand, the common diets in Asia, Africa, and South America usually include much less meat and fat and more fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Race. Prostate cancer is much more likely to occur in African American men than in Caucasian men. African American men are also more likely to die from the disease. At this time, researchers do not fully understand why prostate cancer is more common among African American men.

Family Background. If close blood relatives (your father or brother, for instance) have had prostate cancer, you are more likely to get the disease yourself. The increased risk appears to be due to a genetic inheritance that causes vulnerability towards developing prostate cancer.

Male Hormone Levels. Higher levels of male hormones (known collectively as androgens) appear to be linked with vulnerability to prostate cancer. The research supporting this finding remains controversial and tentative at this time.

There are also several prostate cancer risk factors that people can take steps to avoid or minimize. Taking steps to reduce these risk factors in your lifestyle is the only proven method for reducing your risk of prostate cancer.

Diet. At this point doctors believe that the types of food you eat can have a strong effect on whether or not you will get prostate cancer. Men who eat diets high in fats and meats and low in fruits and vegetables seem to be at increased risk for prostate cancer. Conversely, people who eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and smaller portions of meats and fats seem to be at lower risk for prostate cancer. Particular nutrients such as alpha-linolenic acid (found in fish oil and flax seed), vitamin e and selenium may help reduce cancer risk as well.

Medication. Doctors can prescribe a medication called finasteride (marketed as 'Proscar') that can reduce a vulnerable man's risk of developing prostate cancer. This medication blocks production of the most active form of testosterone.  Finasteride is not a medication to take lightly as side effects (including sexual side effects) are common. Consult with your doctor if you are interested in learning more about this approach.

In addition to these specific risk reduction strategies, there are other lifestyle changes such as making sure that you get regular exercise, and quitting smoking that are recommended and generally improve health and reduce general cancer risk.


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