Genetics and prostate cancer risk

If your brother … or your father … or an uncle … or a grandfather … has or had prostate cancer, then there is an increased chance that you will have prostate cancer. In other words, for many men the risk of prostate cancer is associated with a family history of the disease.

What this does not mean is that just because your father had prostate cancer you will get prostate cancer!

It does mean that the more relatives you have who had or have prostate cancer, the greater is your risk.

This is important, and affects when a man should start to have regular check-ups for signs of prostate cancer.

To be specific, a study published in March 2010 suggested that:

  • Men of less than 65 years of age who had three brothers all affected by prostate cancer were 23 times more likely to have a diagnosis of prostate cancer than similar men with no first-degree relative who had prostate cancer.
  • Men between 65 and 74 years of age whose father (but no other first-degree relative) had prostate cancer were just under twice as likely to have a diagnosis of prostate cancer as similar men with no first-degree relative who had prostate cancer.

As with other diseases, scientists and other researchers are racing each other to find genes which are common to groups of individuals with prostate cancer. In a variety of cancers (breast cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and others) genes have now been found which are specifically related to these cancers in some families with a very high incidence of particular forms (“phenotypes”) of these cancers.

The same is true for prostate cancer. Some genes have now been identified that seem to be significant in the development of certain types of prostate cancer. We already know, for example, that men who carry certain mutations to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (two breast cancer genes that would have been inherited from their mothers) are at increased risk for aggressive forms of prostate cancer. However, these genes are just one step on the way to greater knowledge. Their discovery and isolation will not immediately lead to genetic tests for prostate cancer in most individuals, let alone to some form of universal cure for this disease.

You are likely to hear more and more about the genetics of prostate cancer in years to come, along with references to all sorts of specific genes, most of which will have minimal actual impact on your personal situation for a long time to come, but we are making progress.

Content on this page last reviewed and updated March 16, 2014.
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