Risk factors for prostate cancer

The prostate is a small gland and is part of the male reproductive system. It is below the bladder. Most cases of prostate cancer come from cells that line the prostate gland. 

Risk factors for prostate cancer include:

  • Age- most prostate cancers occur in men aged over 50 years.
  • Family history- men who have a father or brother with prostate cancer.
  • Ethnicity- Māori and Pasifika men are less likely to get prostate cancer, but it is more likely to be lethal.
  • Family genes-men with relatives with breast cancer related to the BRCA breast cancer gene.
  • Tobacco smoking.
  • Being overweight.

Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop prostate cancer.  Some people who get the disease may have no known risk factors.


What you can do to lower your risk of prostate cancer

There is no certain way to prevent prostate cancer. There are some things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Be a healthy weight
  • Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Be active every day.


Family history of prostate cancer

Anyone, including young people, with concerns about their risk of developing prostate cancer should talk to their doctor. Men with a family history of prostate cancer may be advised to have checks more often. This may start at a younger age, usually from 40 to 45 years.


If you have any prostate signs and symptoms

Any signs of prostate cancer should be checked by your doctor. They will advise on the tests and treatment you may need.

Signs and symptoms of prostate cancer include:

  • Weak flow when peeing, a flow that stops and starts, needing to pee urgently or more often, difficulty starting the flow of pee, or feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bladder.
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Pain or burning when peeing.
  • Bone pain. 
  • Leg numbness or weakness.
  • Unexplained weight loss, tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness, pale skin, nausea and vomiting.

Problems urinating (peeing) are common among older men. It is usually caused by non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate or a urinary tract infection (UTI). But this should be looked at. Please do not ignore prostate symptoms.

Men with prostate concerns may be offered different tests. This includes the PSA blood test and a digital rectal examination (DRE).

Many men with prostate cancer have no symptoms.


PSA testing

Prostate-specific antigen or PSA is a protein produced by the prostate. The PSA test measures the amount of PSA in a sample of blood. Many men have a high PSA level. A high level does not always mean there is cancer.

Deciding to have a PSA test when you have no prostate symptoms or a family history

Making a decision to get checked for prostate cancer is different for every man. Before making a decision, it's good to know the benefits and risks of getting checked. We encourage you to talk to your doctor about PSA testing and use the decision aid kupe.net.nz before deciding. You may or may not choose to have a PSA test based on this information.

Your doctor will support you to make an informed decision based on:

  • The balance of benefits and harms of PSA testing and treatment. It is unclear if PSA screening affects the risk of dying of prostate cancer. Men may have unneeded treatment and have to cope with the related harms of this treatment. Read more about the benefits and harms here.
  • Your own preferences. You have the right to decide for yourself.
  • Ethnicity. Māori men are less likely to be diagnosed but more likely to die from prostate cancer than non‐Māori men. Pasifika men also have a higher prostate cancer death rate.
  • Age. Discussion on PSA testing with your doctor usually begins at around 50 years. PSA testing is not usually recommended for men 70 years and older. The harms are likely to be greater than the benefits.
  • Your overall health.