No one knows the exact causes of prostate cancer. Doctors often cannot explain why one man develops prostate cancer and another does not. However, we do know that prostate cancer is not contagious. You cannot "catch" it from another person.
Research has shown that men with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop prostate cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.
Studies have found the following risk factors for prostate cancer:
- Age: Age is the main risk factor for prostate cancer. This disease is rare in men younger than 45. The chance of getting it goes up sharply as a man gets older. In the United States, most men with prostate cancer are older than 65.
- Family history: A man's risk is higher if his father or brother had prostate cancer.
- Race: Prostate cancer is more common in African American men than in white men, including Hispanic white men. It is less common in Asian and American Indian men.
- Certain prostate changes: Men with cells called high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) may be at increased risk for prostate cancer. These prostate cells look abnormal under a microscope.
- Diet: Some studies suggest that men who eat a diet high in animal fat or meat may be at increased risk for prostate cancer. Men who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk.
Many of these risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as family history, cannot be avoided. You can help protect yourself by staying away from known risk factors whenever possible.
Scientists have also studied whether BPH, obesity, smoking, a virus passed through sex, or lack of exercise might increase the risk for prostate cancer. At this time, these are not clear risk factors. Also, most studies have not found an increased risk of prostate cancer for men who have had a vasectomy. A vasectomy is surgery to cut or tie off the tubes that carry sperm out of the testicles.
Most men who have known risk factors do not get prostate cancer. On the other hand, men who do get the disease often have no known risk factors, except for growing older.
If you think you may be at risk, you should talk with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce your risk and can plan a schedule for checkups.