Prostate Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

Every year there are about 33,000 deaths from prostate cancer in the United States. Next to skin cancer, this is one of the most serious cancers to affect American men.  

Understanding the causes of this serious condition can help people identify risk factors and early warning signs. 


The prostate plays a vital role in reproductive health by creating the seminal fluid which sperm need in order to survive. Like many serious medical conditions, the symptoms of prostate cancer are also symptoms of much less serious, and much more common, conditions. These include:

  • Inability to maintain an erection 
  • Painful or bloody urination
  • Weakness in lower body
  • Problems controlling urination
  • Pain in lower abdomen  


Is this dangerous? Yes. Prostate cancer is a very serious medical condition. If left unchecked, this can quickly become life threatening. Some of the complications include: 

  • Cancer spreading to other parts of the body
  • Erectile Dysfunction 
  • Incontinence 

What Causes Prostate Cancer?

What are the causes of this serious condition?…

1. Oncogenes

Oncogenes are a special section of our genetic code. These genes give cells instructions on how long they live and when they should grow and divide. When oncogenes begin to malfunction, they can directly cause cancerous tissue growth.

Why Oncogenes Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Oncogenes that have stopped telling cells when to stop growing can create cancerous cells. You see, these cells no longer have a genetic “off switch” that is usually provided by the oncogenes. Instead, they just have instructions on how to replicate themselves and stay alive. This unchecked growth is the technical cause of cancer.

Oncogenes are usually balanced with “tumor suppressor” genes that give cells instructions on when to die off. As this balance becomes disrupted, cancers can grow.  

This genetic balance can be upset by inherited genetic factors…

2. Inherited Genetic Factors

We inherit our genetic makeup from our parents. This includes any risk factor for prostate cancer. If your father had prostate cancer, for instance, you are at nearly twice the risk for prostate cancer as the general population. This means that a certain percent of the odds of getting prostate cancer are shared genetically.

Why Inherited Genetic Factors Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer

While the majority of prostate cancer cases are had by people who have no family risk of prostate cancer, there is still a strong link between parents with genetic likelihoods and their adult children developing this cancer. Since we inherit our genes from our parents, we also inherit their predispositions for certain diseases. 

In addition to inherited genetic factors, there are also acquired genetic factors…

3. Acquired Genetic Factors

All of our genetic factors aren’t inherited. Throughout our lifetime, our DNA undergoes changes; these changes are known as mutations. Most mutations are a normal part of life. As cells divide, though, errors in our DNA occur. Most of these errors are harmless, but some can lead to cancer. 

Why Acquired Genetic Factors Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer

All cancers are caused by mutations and resulting errors in our DNA. Prostate cancer is no exception to this rule. When cells in the prostate have their DNA changed, they can become cancerous. In fact, most men who experience prostate cancer acquire it in this way.

These genetic changes can not be passed down to future generations, as they are not part of the DNA encoded into reproductive cells. Rather, they are random mutations that happen outside of that system. 

There are many causes of acquired genetic changes. Let’s take a look at a few…

4. Radiation

Radiation is the most common and easily recognizable cause of genetic mutation. In fact, it is so commonly known that it is a well-known trope in stories ranging from Godzilla to popular comic book characters like The Incredible Hulk.

However, radiation exposure isn’t limited to fiction. We are actually exposed to radiation every day of our lives. The background radiation on Earth, potassium in bananas, and some household goods all add to our exposure, for example. These sources are usually harmless, but some can change our DNA. Which, you probably guessed it, can lead to cancer-causing errors.

Why Radiation Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Radiation damages the chemical makeup of DNA. By literally breaking the molecules of DNA, radiation can lead to the same cancer-causing changes as inherited or other genetic problems. While radiation exposure is at safe levels for most people, some careers have higher than normal levels of exposure. X-ray technicians, workers in the energy sector, and sanitation workers should all take precautions against undue exposure, for instance. 

Another source of acquired genetic changes are chemicals…

5. Chemicals

Everything around us is made up of chemicals. From the cleaners under your sink to the trees outside, chemicals are the foundational elements of our world. Some chemicals don’t interact well together, though, and these can include the chemicals that make up our DNA. 

Why Chemicals Increase the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Cancer-causing chemicals are known as carcinogens. These chemicals are uniquely harmful in that they can lead to cancer. The most dangerous carcinogens are usually kept well away from the general public, but there are exceptions. Plastics, chemicals used in furniture production, and even some food packaging all have potential carcinogens. These chemicals can damage the DNA in the prostate and lead to cancer. 

Another important way to determine risk for this type of cancer is the following…

6. Family History

We already talked about family genetics, but prostate cancer is a little more complicated than that. It’s worth taking a closer look at just how your family relationship to this dangerous disease can inform you on your own risk factors. 

Why Family History Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a little more complicated than other family genetics risk factors, like trying to figure out if you will be going bald or not! Men who have fathers who had prostate cancer are at double the risk than those who do not. Interestingly, this risk increases even higher when a man’s brother has prostate cancer. The more family members that have prostate cancer and the closer they are to you genetically, the greater your risk factor becomes. 

Now let’s take a look at factors beyond those related to our genetics…

7. Age

Age is a notable risk factor for prostate cancer. Specifically, a men get older, they are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Now, age itself is not likely to be the cause of this higher risk; rather, years of genetic changes can start to add up in a potentially cancer-causing way.

Why Age Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

This fact can be because that, over the years, they have been exposed to more acquired genetic changes. It can also just take longer for the genetic predisposition to prostate cancer to develop. In either case, men between the ages of 50 and 60 are at much higher odds than the rest of the population to develop prostate cancer. 

Another factor with some surprising effects is your diet… 

8. Diet

Our diets can have an impact on all aspects of our health. From our hearts to our prostates, what we eat shapes how healthy, or unhealthy, we become.

Before we get into the specifics of diet, it is worth mentioning that there is no known link between weight and prostate cancer. Men of all body types appear to be at equal risk for this type of cancer. 

Why Diet Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

While body type might not be a factor, diet certainly is. Namely, there is a link between diets high in red meat and dairy products and an increased risk for prostate cancer. It’s worth noting that men who have diets based on red meat and dairy also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. It’s not currently known whether the high red meat and dairy or the low fruits and vegetables are the causal factor. In either case, shifting to a more plant-based diet and to lower your consumption of animal products is advisable. 

One of the most interesting factors to consider when it comes to prostate cancer is geography…

9. Geography

Geography might seem like an odd risk factor, but it is a real one. Where a person lives has an impact on their risk for prostate cancer, but it might not be for the reasons you think. 

Why Geography Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Research suggests that what region of the world a person lives in can increase their risk of prostate cancer. The United States, Canada, and England are at a much higher risk than the rest of the world. And no, it’s not America’s purple mountains or amber waves of grain that are upping these risks. It has more to do with cultural differences than the actual location. You see, these places have similar diets, lifestyles, and cultural norms. These risk factors just happen to be “located” in this particular geography. 

Another factor that is often misrepresented is race… 

10. Race

When it comes to prostate cancer, racial information is often misunderstood. African-American men are one of the highest risk groups for prostate cancer, but the reasons for this fact has less to do with racial identity and more to do with cultural factors. 

Why Race Increases the Risk of Prostate Cancer

Like geography, race ties into other factors such as diet and overall health. In our case, African-American men are often subject to systemic racial oppression, which effectively translates to factors like higher-risk work environments. Furthermore, studies consistently show that Black people in the United States have less access to quality healthcare than white Americans. Taken together, these factors increase the risk of not just developing, but also catching prostate cancer later than others.

An interesting way to look at this risk factor is to examine rates or prostate cancer in Asian-American men. These men have higher prostate cancer risk than men of similar social and economic standing who live in Asia. In other words, race-related risk has less to do with race itself and more to do with the material conditions people of certain races face in their socioeconomic environment. 


There are many factors to consider when it comes to prostate cancer, and just as much misinformation out there about what causes this serious disease. The information in this list will help you get a basic understanding about the causes of prostate cancer and give you the information you need to make decisions about your own healthcare. 


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