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What are the risk factors?

The exact cause of prostate cancer is not known. Things that can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer include:

  • older age – over 90% of people diagnosed with prostate cancer are aged 55 and over
  • family history of prostate cancer (see below) – if your father or brother has had prostate cancer before the age of 60, your risk will be at least twice that of others
  • strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer – particularly cancer caused by a fault in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • race – people of African-American descent have a higher risk.

While prostate cancer is less common if you are under 55, people aged 40–55 may have a higher than average risk of developing prostate cancer later in life if their prostate specific antigen (PSA) test results are higher than the typical range for their age.

Is family history important?

Having a strong family history of cancer may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. You may have inherited a gene that increases your risk of prostate cancer if you have:

  • several close relatives on the same side of the family (either your mother’s or father’s side) diagnosed with prostate, breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • a brother or father diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 60.

If you are concerned about your family history, talk to your GP. They may refer you to a family cancer clinic or genetic counselling service. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Screening tests

Cancer screening is testing to look for cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. The benefit of screening is that the cancer can be found and treated early. However, it is important that the benefits of screening outweigh any potential harms from treatment side effects.

There is currently no national screening program for prostate cancer. The PSA test may identify fast-growing cancers that can spread to other parts of the body and would benefit from treatment. It may also find slow-growing cancers that are unlikely to be harmful.

Some people without any symptoms of prostate cancer do choose to have regular PSA tests. Before having a PSA test, it is important to talk to your GP about the benefits and risks in your particular circumstances.

If you choose to have regular PSA tests, the current guidelines recommend that:

  • men with no family history of prostate cancer have PSA testing every two years from the ages of 50–69
  • men with a family history of prostate cancer have PSA testing every two years starting from age 40–45, depending on how strong the family history is.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in March 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Ian Vela, Urologic Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Queensland University of Technology, and Urocology, QLD; A/Prof Arun Azad, Medical Oncologist, Urological Cancers, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Nicholas Brook, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital and A/Prof Surgery, The University of Adelaide, SA; Peter Greaves, Consumer; Graham Henry, Consumer; Clin Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician and Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics, and Notre Dame University Australia, WA; Henry McGregor, Men’s Health Physiotherapist, Adelaide Men’s Health Physio, SA; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Department of Urology, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Dr Tom Shakespeare, Director, Radiation Oncology, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore Public Hospitals, NSW; A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Daffodil Centre, Cancer Council NSW; Allison Turner, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse (PCFA), Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Michael Walkden, Consumer; Prof Scott Williams, Radiation Oncology Lead, Urology Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Professor of Oncology, Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, The University of Melbourne, VIC.