prostate cancer risk factors

While we don't know understand all of the causes of prostate cancer, there is scientific evidence of a number of risk factors that may affect your chance of developing prostate cancer. Many people with one or more risk factors never get prostate cancer, while others who develop prostate cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

You face a higher risk of prostate cancer if you are:

  • 50 or older
  • Closely related to others who have had the disease, or to several women who have had breast cancer (5 to 10 percent of prostate cancers are hereditary)
  • A carrier of the BRCA2 gene
  • African-American
  • Obese

Find a MedStar Georgetown expert to discuss possible prostate cancer risk factors.

Prostate Cancer Symptoms

In the early stages, there are no noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer. But the disease can later cause:

  • Urination problems: pain, burning, difficulty stopping or starting, weak flow and/or increased frequency
  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Frequent pain in the lower back, hips or upper thighs
  • Difficulty getting or maintaining erections
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Loss of appetite or weight

Other conditions such as infection or enlargement of the prostate can also cause these symptoms, so see a doctor as soon as possible.


The good news about prostate cancer, which grows slowly and produces few symptoms, is that treatment is effective if detected early. Most doctors agree that healthy men over the age of 50 should consider prostate cancer screening, with the following tests. Screening should occur earlier, at age 40, in those who are at a higher risk of prostate cancer, such as African-American men or those with a family history of prostate cancer. However, you and your doctor should discuss how and when testing can benefit you specifically.

  • Prostate-Specific Antigen Blood Test (PSA): PSA is a protein found in semen and is produced by prostate cells. The function of these cells is to keep the semen liquid. If the prostate cells begin to break down or make more of the protein, they will escape into the blood. This causes the numbers to become elevated, signaling that there may be a problem with prostate function.The PSA blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood; high level occur frequently in men with prostate cancer. However, some men may have high PSA in their blood and not have prostate cancer. That is why it is important to be seen by a urologic oncologist with experience in treating this form of cancer.
    As a result of the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test in the last 10 years, men are being diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years earlier, and the prostate cancer death rate has decreased by 30 percent.
  • Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): Your doctor will perform this test in the office. While the patient is lying on his side or with his knees draw up to his chest, your doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum to examine the prostate gland. The size, shape, and any irregularities will be noted.

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