Risks and causes

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 is called a risk factor. But having a risk factor doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop prostate cancer.


Prostate cancer is more common in older men. 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. 


Prostate cancer is more common in black-African men than white men. It is least common in Asian men.  

Family history and genes

Your risk of prostate cancer is higher if you have a close relative, such as a brother or father, who has had prostate cancer.

Some inherited genes can increase your risk of prostate cancer. These inherited genes are rare and account for only a small number of prostate cancers.

The risk increases by up to 5 times in men with the gene BRCA2. And the risk might increase with the BRCA1 gene. These genes also cause breast and ovarian cancers.

Men with a rare syndrome called Lynch syndrome have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer and some other cancers. A change in one of the genes that fixes mistakes in DNA causes this syndrome eg. MSH2 and MLH1 genes. 

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

Being overweight or obese

Obese means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And being overweight means having a BMI of between 25 and 30.

Try to keep a healthy weight by being physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

There is some evidence that being active might help to lower your risk of developing prostate cancer.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of advanced prostate cancer. Researchers have found a link between being obese or overweight and cancers being higher grade (faster growing).

Hormone levels

Hormone levels may play a part in the risk of developing prostate cancer. Insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) is a hormone our body makes. It regulates normal cell growth and death.

Some studies have found that there is a higher risk of prostate cancer when there is a high level of IGF-1 in the body. A high level of IGF-1 doesn’t cause symptoms in men.

Where there isn't clear evidence

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

Vasectomy is a way of sterilising men and is a type of permanent birth control. An American study in 2014 showed that your risk of getting prostate cancer is slightly higher if you have had a vasectomy compared to men who haven’t. But this study didn't take into account other factors that could increase your risk. So researchers can't tell for sure if having a vasectomy increases your risk of developing prostate cancer. 

Inflammation of the prostate gland is called prostatitis. The evidence on whether prostatitis causes prostate cancer is mixed. Some studies suggest that there is a link between them but others don’t.

Some studies suggest that taller men have a higher risk than shorter men of getting a faster growing (high grade) prostate cancer or prostate cancer that has spread.

Cadmium and cadmium compounds are possible causes of prostate cancer. Cadmium is a type of metal that is in tobacco smoke and food. Non smokers are exposed to it through food. It is in most types of food including vegetables, meats, grains and fish.  

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.

For detailed information on prostate cancer risks and causes

Last reviewed: 
21 Jan 2020
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    SY Park, CA Haiman, I Cheng and others
    Cancer Causes & Control, 2015 Aug; 26(10):1507 – 1515

  • An Epidemiological Reappraisal of the Familial Aggregation of Prostate Cancer: A Meta-Analysis
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    PLoS One, 2011 Oct; 6(10): e27130

  • Does physical activity reduce the risk of prostate cancer? A systematic review and meta-analysis
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    European Urology, 2011 Nov; 60(5): 1029 – 1044

  • Pooled cohort study on height and risk of cancer and cancer death
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  • Occurrence of both bladder and prostate cancer in five cancer registries in Belgium, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom
    E Kellen, MP Zeegers, M Dirx and others
    European Journal of Cancer, 2007 Jul; 43(11): 1694 – 1700

  • Vasectomy and Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer: A 24-Year Follow-Up Study

    MM Siddiqui, KM Wilson, MM Epstein and others
    Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2014 Sep; 32(27): 3033 – 3038

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