A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop prostate cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing prostate cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Some factors cannot be controlled, such as age or ethnicity. In general, prostate cancer risk increases in men starting at age 50 years old, and is mainly found in men over 65 years old. Prostate cancer rates are higher in African American men.

Other factors that may increase the chance of prostate cancer include:

  • Family history—Prostate cancer tends to run in families. This is especially true if it involves an immediate family member. The more relatives, the higher the risk. The risk increases even more if they were diagnosed at an earlier age.
  • Specific genetic mutations—Genetic mutations are changes in cellular DNA that allow cancer to develop and grow. These mutations are inherited from the parent instead of developing over time. Genetic make-up can influence risk by:
    • Having cells that do not have a mechanism to keep them from multiplying in a controlled manner (like brakes on a car).
    • Having cells that have a mechanism that accelerates cellular growth beyond the normal rate (like a gas pedal on a car).
    • Missing or have a specific gene that causes these changes.
  • Sexually transmitted disease (STDs)—Men with a history of STDs, including gonorrhea and human papillomavirus (HPV), are at an increased risk. Persistent or repeated infections can cause damage to DNA that can lead to cancer growth.
  • Body mass index (BMI)—BMI is a measure of weight relative to height. As BMI increases, so does the risk of prostate cancer. This may be related to hormonal changes associated with overweight and obesity.
  • Sedentary lifestyle—Not participating in regular exercise may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Moderate to vigorous activity lowers potentially harmful levels of hormones in the body, including insulin and specific growth factors associated with cancer cell development.
  • Occupational or environmental exposures—There is some evidence that certain chemicals, such as Agent Orange or those used in firefighting at the World Trade Center site, may increase prostate cancer risk.