What Causes Prostate Cancer?
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your mind might be racing, trying to figure out what happened. What went wrong? What could we have done differently so that this wouldn’t happen? The answer is simple, but unsatisfying: doctors and researchers don’t know exactly—yet.
We know that there are three main, established risk factors: one’s racial background, family history, and age. (Learn more about risk factors for prostate cancer.) Additional factors, like smoking, obesity, and possibly consuming very high amounts of calcium, seem to factor into more aggressive cases of prostate cancer as well—although some of these factors are associated with many other health problems, too. Someone who has systemic health issues may fare more poorly with any illness.
One of the biggest apparent underlying factors is one we have little control over: our genes.
At the moment of our conception, DNA from our mother and our father combine to create a unique genetic fingerprint which contains all the information needed to grow those few cells into an entire human being. But sometimes that genetic code contains quirks which seem to be involved in certain types of illness later in life. In particular, mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are among those known to be linked to certain cancers that run in families. Genetic screening is available for families who seem to share these cancers. But inherited genetic mutations are only believed to cause 5% to 10% of cases of prostate cancer.
The other type of genetic mutations are acquired mutations. These are changes to your genetic material that happen at any time after your conception. Your cells are constantly dying off and being replaced by new cells, and each time a cell divides to create a new cell, there is a chance that something could go wrong as the genes are copied over. We don’t yet know all the things that can affect this process, but we know that body chemistry and hormones, exposure to chemical toxins, poor diet, lack of exercise, and radiation (from the sun or other sources) are among the factors implicated in acquired gene mutations.
So the short answer is both simple and complicated, and it’s the same advice your doctors will give you for almost any question about your health: to avoid prostate cancer, eat healthy foods, stay in shape, and get enough rest. You should also maintain a thoughtfully designed screening regimen for prostate cancer as you age.
For more detailed information on nutrition, get the guide: The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer.