Prostate Cancer Prevention & Early Detection

  • Willie Underwood III, MD, MPH, MSci, explains prostate cancer risk factors to a patient.

Prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate is much easier to treat than that which has spread beyond the prostate into other parts of the body. Lacking any clearly defined symptoms until the late stages of progression, prostate cancer used to be terminal for many men because it went undetected. We now understand that some men are at a greater risk for developing prostate cancer and have reliable methods for detecting this disease early, before it advances to a critical stage.

Risk Factors

Studies have found the following risk factors for prostate cancer:

  • Age: Age is the primary risk for prostate cancer — the likelihood of a diagnosis increases sharply as a man gets older. Rare in men younger than 45, in the United States, prostate cancer is most common in men older than 65.
  • Family History: A man’s risk for prostate cancer is higher if his father or brother had the disease. Roswell Park is one of a few cancer centers that offer a family history analysis. Men whose family histories suggest an increased risk of hereditary prostate cancer may be referred to our genetic counselors, who can help them further evaluate their risk.
  • Race: African-American men have a 50 percent higher incidence of prostate cancer than white men, and they are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from the disease if diagnosed. The disease is less common in Asians and American Indians. Learn more about the North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Project (PCaP) to explore the racial differences in prostate cancer mortality. 
  • Certain Prostate Changes: Men with cells called high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN, or a collection of irregular cells within the prostate) may be at increased risk for prostate cancer. These prostate cells look abnormal under the microscope. PIN can be subdivided into different levels, based on the degree of cell atypia (abnormality). PIN was formerly classified as PIN 1, 2 or 3, in order of increasing cell irregularities. Today, PIN 1 is referred to as low grade PIN, and PIN 2 and PIN 3 are grouped together as high grade PIN. Only high-grade PIN has been shown to be a possible risk factor for prostate cancer.
  • Diet: Some studies suggest that men who eat a diet high in animal fat or meat may be at increased risk for prostate cancer. Men who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk. See the MEAL Study for more information on how diet may impact risk. 
  • Obesity: Men who are overweight may have a greater risk for developing a type of prostate cancer that is fast growing.