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Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

All men are at risk for developing prostate cancer, but there are factors that can increase your risk. Understanding how these factors apply to you might help you make decisions about screening for prostate cancer.

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that raises your chances of getting a disease such as cancer.

Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get the disease. Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others who get cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.

Researchers have found some factors that can affect prostate cancer risk.

Older age

Prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 40, but the chance of having prostate cancer rises rapidly after age 50. About 6 in 10 prostate cancers are found in men older than 65. 


Prostate cancer develops more often in African American men and in Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. And when it does develop in these men, they tend to be younger.

Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian American, Hispanic, and Latino men than in non-Hispanic White men. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Family history

Prostate cancer seems to run in some families, which suggests that in some cases there may be an inherited or genetic factor. Still, most prostate cancers occur in men without a family history of it.

Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. (The risk is higher for men who have a brother with the disease than for those who have a father with it.) The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Inherited gene changes

Certain gene changes (known as variants or mutations) that are inherited from a parent can raise prostate cancer risk, although these probably account for only a small percentage of prostate cancers overall. For example:

  • Inherited variants of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which are linked to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and other cancers in some families, can also increase prostate cancer risk in men (especially mutations in BRCA2).
  • Men with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC), a condition caused by inherited gene changes, are at increased risk for some types of cancer, including prostate cancer.

Other inherited gene changes can also raise a man’s risk of prostate cancer. For more on some of these gene changes, see What Causes Prostate Cancer?

Factors with less clear effects on prostate cancer risk


The exact role of diet in prostate cancer is not clear, but several factors have been studied.

Men who consume a lot of dairy products may have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer.

Some studies have suggested that men who consume a lot of calcium (through foods or supplements) may have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. But most studies have not found such a link with the levels of calcium found in the average diet, and it’s important to note that calcium is known to have other important health benefits.

Dietary vegetable intake, soy products, coffee, and multivitamin use have also been studied. However, none of these factors has consistently been linked to prostate cancer risk.


Obesity does not seem to increase the overall risk of getting prostate cancer.

Some studies have found that men with obesity have a lower risk of getting a low-grade (slower-growing) form of the disease, but a higher risk of getting more aggressive (faster-growing) prostate cancer. The reasons for this are not clear.

Some studies have also found that men with obesity may be at higher risk for having more advanced prostate cancer and of dying from prostate cancer, but not all studies have found this.


Most studies have not found a link between smoking and getting prostate cancer. Some research has linked smoking to a small increased risk of dying from prostate cancer, but this finding needs to be confirmed by other studies. Importantly, smoking is clearly linked with many other health effects, including an increased risk of many other types of cancer.

Chemical exposures

Research has suggested that exposure to some chemicals might increase prostate cancer risk. For example:

Some studies have suggested a link between exposure to arsenic and a higher risk of prostate cancer. To learn more, see Arsenic and Cancer Risk.

There is some evidence that firefighters can be exposed to chemicals that may increase their risk of prostate cancer. To learn more, see Firefighters and Cancer Risk.

A few studies have suggested a possible link between exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical used widely during the Vietnam War, and the risk of prostate cancer, although not all studies have found such a link. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine considers there to be “limited/suggestive evidence” of a link between Agent Orange exposure and prostate cancer. To learn more, see Agent Orange and Cancer.

Inflammation of the prostate

Some studies have suggested that prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) may be linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, but other studies have not found such a link. Inflammation is often seen in samples of prostate tissue that also contain cancer. The link between the two is not yet clear, and this is an active area of research. 

Sexually transmitted infections

Researchers have looked to see if sexually transmitted infections (like gonorrhea or chlamydia) might increase the risk of prostate cancer, because they can lead to inflammation of the prostate. So far, studies have had conflicting results, and no firm conclusions have been reached.


Some studies have suggested that men who have a vasectomy (minor surgery to make men infertile) have a slightly increased risk for prostate cancer, but other studies have found no increase in risk. Research on this possible link is still underway.

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 editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Revised: November 22, 2023

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