Can Prostate Cancer Be Prevented?

There is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer. Many risk factors such as age, race, and family history can’t be controlled. But there are some things you can do that might lower your risk of prostate cancer.

Body weight, physical activity, and diet

The effects of body weight, physical activity, and diet on prostate cancer risk aren't completely clear, but there are things you can do that might lower your risk.

Some studies have found that men who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing advanced prostate cancer or prostate cancer that is more likely to be fatal.

Although not all studies agree, several have found a higher risk of prostate cancer in men whose diets are high in dairy products and calcium.

For now, the best advice about diet and activity to possibly reduce the risk of prostate cancer is to:

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Keep physically active.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern, which includes a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and avoids or limits red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed foods.

It may also be sensible to limit calcium supplements and to not get too much calcium in the diet. (This does not mean that men who are being treated for prostate cancer should not take calcium supplements if their doctor recommends them.)

To learn more, see our American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Vitamin, mineral, and other supplements

Vitamin E and selenium: Some early studies suggested that taking vitamin E or selenium supplements might lower prostate cancer risk.

But in a large study known as the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), neither vitamin E nor selenium supplements were found to lower prostate cancer risk. In fact, men in the study taking the vitamin E supplements were later found to have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer.  

Soy and isoflavones: Some early research has suggested possible benefits from soy proteins (called isoflavones) in lowering prostate cancer risk. Several studies are now looking more closely at the possible effects of these proteins.

Taking any supplements can have both risks and benefits. Before starting vitamins or other supplements, talk with your doctor.

Medicines

Some drugs might help reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

5-alpha reductase inhibitors

5-alpha reductase is an enzyme in the body that changes testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the main hormone that causes the prostate to grow. Drugs called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, such as finasteride (Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart), block this enzyme from making DHT. These drugs are used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous growth of the prostate.

Large studies of both of these drugs have been done to see if they might also be useful in lowering prostate cancer risk. In these studies, men taking either drug were less likely to develop prostate cancer after several years than men getting an inactive placebo.

When the results were looked at more closely, the men who took these drugs had fewer low-grade prostate cancers, but they had about the same (or a slightly higher) risk of higher-grade prostate cancers, which are more likely to grow and spread. Long term, it’s not clear if these drugs affect death rates, as men in these studies had similar survival whether or not they took one of these drugs.

These drugs can cause sexual side effects such as lowered sexual desire and erectile dysfunction (impotence), as well as the growth of breast tissue in some men. But they can help with urinary problems from BPH such as trouble urinating and leaking urine (incontinence).

These drugs aren’t approved by the FDA specifically to help prevent prostate cancer, although doctors can prescribe them “off label” for this use. Right now, it isn’t clear that taking one of these drugs just to lower prostate cancer risk is very helpful. Still, men who want to know more about these drugs should discuss them with their doctors.

Aspirin

Some research suggests that men who take a daily aspirin might have a lower risk of getting and dying from prostate cancer. But more research is needed to show if the possible benefits outweigh the risks. Long-term aspirin use can have side effects, including an increased risk of bleeding in the digestive tract. While aspirin can also have other health benefits, at this time most doctors don’t recommend taking it just to try to lower prostate cancer risk.

Other drugs

Other drugs and dietary supplements that might help lower prostate cancer risk are now being studied. But so far, no drug or supplement has been found to be helpful in studies large enough for experts to recommend them.

 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Klein EA, Thompson IM Jr, Tangen CM, et al. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2011; 306:1549.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Prostate Cancer Prevention. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/hp/prostate-prevention-pdq on March 28, 2019.

Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(4). doi:10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591 on June 9, 2020.

Sartor AO. Chemoprevention strategies in prostate cancer. UpToDate. 2019. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chemoprevention-strategies-in-prostate-cancer on March 28, 2019.

Sartor AO. Risk factors for prostate cancer. UpToDate. 2019. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/risk-factors-for-prostate-cancer on March 28, 2019.

References

Klein EA, Thompson IM Jr, Tangen CM, et al. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2011; 306:1549.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Prostate Cancer Prevention. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/prostate/hp/prostate-prevention-pdq on March 28, 2019.

Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(4). doi:10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591 on June 9, 2020.

Sartor AO. Chemoprevention strategies in prostate cancer. UpToDate. 2019. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/chemoprevention-strategies-in-prostate-cancer on March 28, 2019.

Sartor AO. Risk factors for prostate cancer. UpToDate. 2019. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/risk-factors-for-prostate-cancer on March 28, 2019.

Last Medical Review: August 1, 2019 Last Revised: June 9, 2020

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