Prostate cancer affects mainly older men. About 80% of cases are in men over 65, and less than 1% of cases are in men under 50. Men with a family history of prostate cancer are more likely to get it.
Doctors don’t know what causes prostate cancer, but diet contributes to the risk. Men who eat lots of fat from red meat are most likely to have prostate cancer. Eating meat may be risky for other reasons: Meat cooked at high temperatures produces cancer-causing substances that affect the prostate. The disease is much more common in countries where meat and dairy products are common than in countries where the diet consists of rice, soybean products, and vegetables.
Hormones also play a role. Eating fats raises the amount of testosterone in the body, and testosterone speeds the growth of prostate cancer.
Researchers do not know exactly what causes prostate cancer. But they have found some risk factors and are trying to learn just how these factors cause prostate cells to become cancer.
On a basic level, prostate cancer is caused by changes in the DNA of a normal prostate cell. DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes. Our genes control how our cells function. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than just how we look.
Some genes control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die:
Certain genes that help cells grow, divide, and stay alive are called oncogenes.
Genes that normally keep cell growth under control, repair mistakes in DNA, or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes.
Cancer can be caused in part by DNA changes (mutations) that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.
DNA changes can either be inherited from a parent or can be acquired during a person’s lifetime.
Inherited gene mutations
Some gene mutations can be passed from generation to generation and are found in all cells in the body. These mutations are inherited. Inherited gene changes cause about 5% to 10% of prostate cancers. Cancer caused by inherited genes is called hereditary cancer. Several inherited mutated genes have been linked to hereditary prostate cancer, including:
RNASEL (formerly HPC1): The normal function of this tumor suppressor gene is to help cells die when something goes wrong inside them. Inherited mutations in this gene might let abnormal cells live longer than they should, which can lead to an increased risk of prostate cancer.
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For such a little gland, the prostate seems to cause a lot of concern. Like a troubled, war-torn country, it's in the news all the time and something always seems to be going wrong there, but you don't really know where it is or why it's important.
All men are at risk for prostate problems. That's because all men have a prostate. Take a look at this overview of prostate problems to assess your risk for trouble with your prostate.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH, also known as an enlarged prostate, is growth of the prostate gland to an unhealthy size. A man's chances of having BPH go up with age:
* Age 31-40: one in 12
* Age 51-60: about one in two
* Over age 80: more than eight in 10
However, only about half of men ever have BPH symptoms that need treatment. BPH does not lead to prostate cancer, although both are common in older men.
Prostate Cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (besides skin cancer). About one man in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. Let's keep these numbers in perspective, though. Because prostate cancer is usually slow growing, only about one in 35 men will die of prostate cancer.
Like BPH, the risk for prostate cancer increases with age. About two out of every three men with prostate cancer are over age 65. No one knows exactly what causes prostate cancer, but risk factors associated with it include:
* Family history. Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles your risk.
* Race. African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer than Caucasians, and the cancer is usually more advanced when discovered.
African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer usually begin prostate cancer screening at an earlier age than Caucasian men who do not have prostate cancer in their family history.