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What causes prostate cancer?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

The cause of prostate cancer is unknown. The disease begins as a small bump of abnormal cells located within the prostate. These cancerous cells do not die like normal cells, and they divide at a much higher rate as well. Therefore over time, sometimes many years, the bump of abnormal cells grows larger, eventually becoming a tumor, from which the cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

No one knows what causes prostate cancer to develop. It becomes more common with age, is more common in some ethnic groups, such as African Americans, and is more likely to develop in men who have immediate relatives (father or brother) who have had it. In about 1 out of 10 cases, an inherited abnormal gene appears to be involved. It is also more common in some countries, such as the United States, than others, such as Japan. But when men from other countries in which the incidence is low, such as Japan, move to the United States, the rate of developing prostate cancer increases in their sons and grandsons. All this suggests that there is an interaction between genetics and environmental causes. Differences in diet have been suggested to be the primary environmental factor. But, on the other hand, there may be more prostate cancer in this country simply because it is detected more.

It is thought that potential causal factors act by altering the balance of male hormones in the body because prostate cancer is a hormone-sensitive cancer, like breast cancer. The male sex hormone, testosterone, produced by the testes influences the growth and spread of prostate cancer. Thus, higher testosterone levels or greater lifetime exposure to testosterone appears to contribute to its development. This has been used to explain the higher incidence rates in African Americans, who tend to have higher average testosterone levels than other ethnic groups or in tall men who may have had an earlier onset of higher testosterone levels.

Beginning at age 50, the risk of prostate cancer increases with age. The lifetime risk of dying from prostate cancer is 3.4 percent for American men. There is also increased risk if a male close relative (grandfather, father, or brother) has a prostate cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.