Am I at risk of prostate cancer?
In the UK, about 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. We don't know exactly what causes prostate cancer but there are some things that may mean you are more likely to get it – these are called risk factors.
There are three main prostate cancer risk factors, which are things you can't change. These are:
- getting older – it mainly affects men aged 50 or over
- having a family history of prostate cancer
- being black.
If you have any of these risk factors or if you have any symptoms, speak to your GP. They can talk to you about your risk, and about the tests that are used to diagnose prostate cancer. You can also get in touch with our Specialist Nurses, who can help you understand your risk of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer mainly affects men over 50, and your risk increases as you get older. The most common age for men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer is between 70 and 74 years. If you’re under 50, your risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is very low, but it is possible.
If you're over 50 and you're worried about your risk of prostate cancer, you might want to ask your GP about tests for prostate cancer. If you're over 45 but have a higher risk of prostate cancer – because you have a family history of prostate cancer or you're a black man – you might want to talk to your GP too.
Our Specialist Nurses can also help you understand your risk of getting prostate cancer.
Family history and genetics
Your family history is information about any health problems that have affected your family. Families have many common factors, such as their genes, environment and lifestyle. Together, these factors can help suggest if you are more likely to get some health conditions.
Inside every cell in our body is a set of instructions called genes. These are passed down (inherited) from our parents. Genes control how the body grows, works and what it looks like. If something goes wrong with one or more genes (known as a gene fault or mutation), it can sometimes cause cancer. For example, BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations.
Is prostate cancer hereditary?
If people in your family have prostate cancer, breast cancer or ovarian cancer, it might increase your own risk of getting prostate cancer. This is because you may have inherited the same faulty genes.
My father had prostate cancer. What are my risks?
- You are two and a half times more likely to get prostate cancer if your father or brother has had it, compared to a man who has no relatives with prostate cancer.
- Your chance of getting prostate cancer may be even greater if your father or brother was under 60 when he was diagnosed, or if you have more than one close relative (father or brother) with prostate cancer.
- Your risk of getting prostate cancer may also be higher if your mother or sister has had breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Although prostate cancer can run in families, having a family history doesn’t mean you will get it. But it's important to speak to your GP if you have any relatives with prostate cancer, breast cancer or ovarian cancer, as your risk of hereditary prostate cancer may be higher.
Do you have a family history of prostate cancer?
If you're over 45 and your father or brother has had prostate cancer, you may want to talk to your GP. Our Specialist Nurses can also help you understand your hereditary risk of prostate cancer.
What are BRCA1 and BRCA2?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that everyone has. These genes are passed down from a parent (inherited). The function of the BRCA genes is to keep healthy cells growing normally and prevent the growth of cancer cells.
In some people, these gene change and don’t work properly – this is called a gene mutation. Your body can create these gene mutations over time, or they can be inherited.
Having a BRCA gene mutation is rare. In the general population, around 1 in 300 to 400 people have a BRCA gene mutation. However, people from an Ashkenazi Jewish background have a higher risk, around 1 in 40 people may carry a BRCA gene mutation.
Am I more at risk of prostate cancer if I have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation?
Men with a BRCA2 gene mutation have a higher lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer during their lifetime. If you have a BRCA1 mutation, your lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer may only increase slightly. But the evidence remains unclear. Some research suggests that having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation may also increase your risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer at a younger age or having aggressive (more likely to spread) prostate cancer.
Having a BRCA mutation doesn’t mean you will get prostate cancer. But if you have a BRCA mutation, it’s important to talk to your genetic specialist about your risk.
It’s important to speak to your GP if you have any relatives with prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer or have a known BRCA gene mutation, as your risk of prostate cancer may be higher. You may be offered to have a blood test to see if you have a BRCA gene mutation. The NHS website has further information on genetic testing and genetic counselling.
Black men are more likely to get prostate cancer than other men. We don’t know why, but it might be linked to genes. In the UK, about 1 in 4 black men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.*
If you have mixed black ethnicity, you are likely to be at higher risk of prostate cancer than a white man. But we don’t know your exact risk because we don’t have enough information on prostate cancer in men with mixed black ethnicity. And we don’t know whether it makes a difference if it’s your mother or father who is black.
If you're a black man and you're over 45, speak to your GP about your risk of prostate cancer, even if you don't have any symptoms. Remember to tell them if you have a family history of prostate cancer or breast cancer. You can also contact our Specialist Nurses.
Read more about the risk in black men and the research we are funding to find out why black men are at higher risk.
*This statistic was worked out using information about men recorded as ‘black African’, ‘black Caribbean’ and ‘black other’.
Can prostate cancer be prevented?
No one knows how to prevent prostate cancer, but a healthy lifestyle may be important.
Being overweight may increase your risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer that’s aggressive (more likely to spread) or advanced (cancer that has spread outside the prostate). Eating healthily and keeping active can help you stay a healthy weight.
Read more about diet, physical activity and prostate cancer risk.
References and reviewers
Updated: October 2022 | To be reviewed: July 2023
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This information has been reviewed for accuracy and updated by:
- our Health Information team
- our Specialist Nurses.