What is a risk factor?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.
Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:
- Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they don't necessarily cause the disease.
- Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.
- Some risk factors are very well-known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.
Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your healthcare provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.
Risk factors for prostate cancer
Risk factors for prostate cancer include:
- Gender. Only men are at risk.
- Age. Men ages 50 and older are at higher risk. Almost 2/3 of all prostate cancers are found in men over age 65.
- Race and nationality. Prostate cancer is more common in African-American men. It's less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men. Asian men in the U.S. are at higher risk than Asian men living in Asia.
- Family history of prostate cancer. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer greatly raises a man's risk for the disease. The risk is even higher if more than 1 family member has the cancer, especially if at a young age.
- Diet. Men who have a diet high in red meat or high-fat dairy foods and low in vegetables and fruits may have a greater chance of getting prostate cancer.
- Obesity. Obesity has been linked with a higher risk of a more aggressive type of prostate cancer.
- Chemicals in the workplace. Men who are in contact with toxic chemicals at work may have a higher risk for prostate cancer. This includes firefighters. There is also some evidence that men who were exposed to Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War, might be at higher risk for prostate cancer. But the exact link is not clear.
- Genes. Men with certain inherited gene changes are at higher risk for prostate cancer. But only a small amount of prostate cancers are strongly linked to gene changes.
What are your risk factors?
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for prostate cancer and what you can do about them.
Stephen P. Carriere, MD is a Touro Urologist.