What are the causes of prostate cancer?

No one knows the exact causes of prostate cancer, or why some types are more aggressive than others. But we do know that it is the most common cancer in men.

The American Cancer Society estimates that one in six men will be diagnosed with the disease. It is reassuring to know that only one in 36 will die from it.


It may all start with DNA


Whenever a cell divides, DNA is copied to the new cell. Sometimes this process doesn’t work perfectly.

It is believed that damage or mutations to DNA cause normal prostate cells to become cancerous cells. Some of these mutations are inherited and others occur during a man’s lifetime. The more quickly cells grow and divide, the more chances for mutations.

Up to 10% of prostate cancers are caused by inherited DNA changes. But it is more common for DNA changes to occur during a man’s lifetime. Mutated genes that have been linked to a man’s tendency to get prostate cancer include HPC1 (Hereditary Prostate Cancer Gene 1), BRCA1, and BRCA2.

High levels of certain hormones (such as testosterone and an insulin-like growth factor-1 called IFG-1) have also been linked to prostate cancer cell growth, and may put men at risk.

Inflammation of the prostate (called prostatitis) has been suspected to be a risk factor (because it may lead to cell DNA damage), but research study results have been contradictory.

Exposure to radiation or certain chemicals that have been known to cause cancer may also cause DNA mutations, but this does not appear to be a major cause of prostate cell mutations.

Other possible causes of prostate cancer


The American Cancer Society suggests that a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and high in fat, particularly saturated fat in hydrogenated foods, causes oxidative damage to DNA. They report a slightly higher risk of developing prostate cancer in men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products.

A high intake of calcium has been linked to the development of prostate cancer, but some studies show that an average intake of calcium does not put men at risk.

Other risk factors

It’s hard to know if age, family history, race, hormones, ethnicity, and environment are really causes of prostate cancer, but they may all play a role.

A man’s risk increases after the age of 50 (nearly 2 out of 3 prostate cancers are found in men older than 65). African-American men are at higher risk than white men. They also tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage than white men. Asian-American men and Hispanic/Latino men are at lower risk than white men.

If your loved one has a father or brother with prostate cancer, his risk of getting the disease is more than doubled. If a man has several family members who have had prostate cancer, his risk is also much higher.

Another reason researchers believe that diet may play a role is because the rate of prostate cancer is lower in Asian men living Asia, but higher in Asian men living in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports that prostate cancer is also more common in North America, northwestern Europe, Australia, and on Caribbean islands, although the reason is not known.

Some men worry that having a vasectomy increases their risk of prostate cancer, but recent studies do not support this. There is also no strong scientific proof that too much sexual activity—including masturbation—is one of the causes of prostate cancer.


Always discuss everything you read on this web site with a qualified medical professional.

Updated 3/12

Next: Symptoms of prostate cancer

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