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Prostate cancer is common among men; learn the risk factors and talk to your doctor about screening.

August 24, 2022

Cancer Urology
older man smiling at the camera

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Prostate cancer is more likely to develop in African American men. It is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men after skin cancer.

Although prostate cancer affects many men, an early diagnosis doesn't usually carry a poor prognosis. In fact, when discovered early, prostate cancer is highly treatable, and most men continue to live healthy lives.

"The best way to combat prostate cancer is to be aware of the risk factors and symptoms so you and your doctor can develop a strategy for early detection that is appropriate for your level of risk," says Timothy Powell, M.D., urologist with Riverside Health System. 

Immediate family members with prostate cancer increase your risk of the disease.

Age, family history, genetics, ethnicity and lifestyle all play a role in determining your risk for prostate cancer.

"If your father or brother has prostate cancer, your risk of getting the disease more than doubles," says Dr. Powell.

Besides having a close relative with prostate cancer, your risk goes up with the following factors:

  • Age
  • African American or Caribbean descent 
  • Mutations to genes including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations

Diet and smoking appear to have a small but less clear association to prostate cancer. However, that doesn't mean they don't matter. Quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet reduces the risk of other more common conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity that often impact the same population as prostate cancer.

Early prostate cancer is usually silent.

Early prostate cancer doesn't typically impact urinary or sexual function, and often is detected only through screening, rather than signs or symptoms.

Sometimes, more advanced prostate cancers will cause symptoms, such as:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Problems with urination
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Back, hip and chest pain
  • Weakness or numbness in the legs

Screening for prostate cancer isn't necessary for everyone.

The American Cancer Society recommends several timelines for screening based on family history, age and current state of health. For men at average risk, screening starts at age 50. Screening starts earlier at age 45 for those at higher risk including African American men and those with a first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at a early age (below age 65).

For men who are at highest risk, including those with two or more first-degree relatives who had prostate cancer at an early age, screening can start as young as age 40. Prostate cancer screening includes a prostate-specific antigen blood test and a physical exam with a digital rectal exam. The American Urological Association recommends screening up to age 70 for most men, or for men with at least 10 years of life expectancy.

"Prostate cancer screening isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. If you're young and at low risk, you likely don't need to be screened. But, if you are older or have a family history, we recommend doing more regular screenings to make sure we identify cancer early," says Dr. Powell.

What's the next step for reducing my risk?

Talk to your doctor about your risk for prostate cancer so you can develop a plan for screening together. To get started schedule an appointment or call 757-316-5777.

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