By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
The exact cause of prostate cancer is not yet known. While some of the risk factors that predispose to this cancer such as family history and ethnicity are non-modifiable, others such as lifestyle factors can be altered to reduce the risk for developing this cancer.
Some examples of the non-modifiable risk factors for prostate cancer include:
Age – Prostate cancer is considered the cancer of aging men. The condition is rare in individuals below 50 years of age, while about 80% of men aged over 80 years will have some degree of prostate cancer
Ethnicity and race – For reasons that are not yet understood, prostate cancer appears to be more common in men of Afro-Caribbean or African American descent than in other racial groups. Jamaican men of African descent are also at a greater risk of this cancer. On the other hand, men of Asian-American origin and Hispanic/Latino men are at less risk of developing the cancer than non-Hispanic white men.
Genetic predisposition – Several genes have been identified that may raise the risk of prostate cancer. In addition, men with first-degree male relatives (such as fathers or brothers) who have been affected by prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop this cancer than men who do not have such a relative. Research suggests that inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which are already indicated in breast and ovarian cancers, may also play a role in prostate cancer.
Preventable or modifiable risk factors
Some examples of the measures men can take to reduce their risk of prostate cancer include:
Diet – Although the exact role that diet plays in prostate cancer is not clear, studies suggest that a diet rich in red meat and dairy products contributes to an increased risk of cancer. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables but low in saturated fats, on the other hand, is associated with a decreased risk for cancer. Foods considered to be protective against prostate cancer include sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and mackerel, foods high in fiber such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds and vegetables rich in phytonutrients such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes. Some studies suggest that vitamin D, E and C supplementation may provide protective effects against certain cancers including prostate cancer.
Studies have shown that smoking and alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer.
Obesity has been associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer in various studies and some research suggests that obese individuals are more susceptible to a more aggressive form of prostate cancer that is more likely to lead to advanced disease and death.
Engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight are measures people can take that are though to prevent the risk of prostate cancer and also reduce the risk of recurrence in those already treated for the condition.
Exposure to certain hazardous substances in the working environment has been suggested to increase the risk for prostate cancer. For example, evidence suggests that fire-fighters exposed to toxic materials may be at an increased risk.
Those with prostatitis or prostate inflammation and prostatic infections have a raised risk of prostate cancer. Treating these adequately and promptly may help prevent prostate cancer.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jan 20, 2014