Risks and causes of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is not clearly linked to any preventable causes. Your risk of developing it depends on many things. These include age and ethnicity.

Anything that can increase your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor.

Different cancers have different risk factors.­ Having one or more of these risk factors doesn't mean you will definitely get that cancer.

Getting older

As with most cancers, prostate cancer is more common as you get older. Prostate cancer is most common in men aged 75 to 79 years.

1 in 6 men in the UK will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives. 

Ethnicity

Prostate cancer is more common in Black men than in White men. It is least common in Asian men.  

Family history

Your risk of prostate cancer is higher if you have a close relative who has had prostate cancer. A close relative is a:

  • father
  • brother
  • grandfather
  • uncle

Inherited faulty genes

Most cancers are not linked to inherited faulty genes Open a glossary item. But some inherited faulty genes can increase your risk of prostate cancer. These inherited genes are rare and account for only a small number of cancers.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They are important genes that stop the cells in our body from growing and dividing out of control. A fault or mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene means that the cells can grow out of control. This can lead to cancer.

People who inherit faulty versions of BRCA 2 genes have an increased risk of developing different types of cancer. This includes prostate cancer. A recent study showed that your risk of developing prostate cancer is around 2 times higher than that of the general population if you have a faulty BRCA2 gene.

The risk of developing prostate cancer may also increase with faulty BRCA1 genes. But researchers need more studies to find out for sure. 

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome is rare. It is caused by faults in a number of genes such as MLH1 and MLH2. People with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk of developing a number of cancers, including prostate cancer.

Researchers are looking into other genes that might also increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Obesity and weight

Obesity and overweight is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking. Obese means having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And being overweight means having a BMI of between 25 and 30.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of metastatic or advanced prostate cancer. Metastatic prostate cancer is a cancer that began in the prostate and has spread to another part of the body. 

Being taller

Some evidence shows that the taller people are during adulthood and the more people weighed at birth, the higher their risk of prostate cancer. 

Hormone levels

Hormones are natural substances made by different organs of our body. Insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is a hormone that regulates normal cell growth.

Research has found that people with high levels of IGF-1 have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals that help plants grow by controlling pests like weeds and bugs.

Research has found that the risk of developing prostate cancer is higher in people exposed to high levels of pesticides. Most people only come into contact with very small amounts of pesticides on food or when gardening.

Where there isn't clear evidence

Some factors might increase the risk of prostate cancer but there is not enough evidence to be sure. These include:

  • having a vasectomy
  • inflammation of the prostate called prostatitis
  • being exposed to cadmium which is a type of metal found in tobacco and certain types of food

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by evidence. There might be things you have heard of that we haven’t included here. This is because either there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.

Reducing your risk

There are ways you can reduce your risk of cancer.

  • Cancer Statistics for the UK
    Cancer Research UK, Last accessed May 2022

  • Cancer risks associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 pathogenic variants
    S Li and others
    Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2022. Vol 40, Issue 14. Pages 1529-1541

  • List of classification by cancer sites with sufficient or limited evidence in humans, IARC Monographs Volumes 1-131
    World Health Organization – International Agency for Research on Cancer, Last accessed May 2022

  • Diet, activity and cancer - Prostate cancer
    World Cancer Research Fund International, last accessed May 2022

  • Body fatness and cancer – viewpoint of the IARC working group
    B Lauby-Secretan and others
    The New England Journal of Medicine, 2018. Vol 375. Pages 794-798

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
31 May 2022
Next review due: 
31 May 2025