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Prostate Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)

What is prevention?

Cancerprevention is action taken to lower the chance of getting cancer. By preventing cancer, the number of new cases of cancer in a group or population is lowered. Hopefully, this will lower the number of deaths caused by cancer.

To prevent new cancers from starting, scientists look at risk factors and protective factors. Anything that increases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing cancer is called a cancer protective factor.

Some risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, both smoking and inheriting certain genes are risk factors for some types of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Regular exercise and a healthy diet may be protective factors for some types of cancer. Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may lower your risk but it does not mean that you will not get cancer.

Different ways to prevent cancer are being studied, including:

  • Changing lifestyle or eating habits.

  • Avoiding things known to cause cancer.

  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerouscondition or to keep cancer from starting.


General Information About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the prostate.

The prostate is a gland in the male reproductive system. The prostate is just below the bladder (the organ that collects and empties urine) and in front of the rectum (the lower part of the intestine). It is about the size of a walnut and surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that empties urine from the bladder). The prostate gland produces fluid that makes up part of the semen.

Anatomy of the male reproductive and urinary systems; drawing shows front and side views of ureters, lymph nodes, rectum, bladder, prostate gland, vas deferens, penis, testicles, urethra, seminal vesicle, and ejaculatory duct.
Anatomy of the male reproductive and urinary systems, showing the prostate, testicles, bladder, and other organs.

As men age, the prostate may get bigger. A bigger prostate may block the flow of urine from the bladder and cause problems with sexual function. This condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is not cancer, but surgery may be needed to correct it. The symptoms of BPH or of other problems in the prostate may be like symptoms of prostate cancer.

Two-panel drawing shows normal male reproductive and urinary anatomy and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Panel on the left shows the normal prostate and flow of urine from the bladder through the urethra. Panel on the right shows an enlarged prostate pressing on the bladder and urethra, blocking the flow of urine.
Normal prostate and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). A normal prostate does not block the flow of urine from the bladder. An enlarged prostate presses on the bladder and urethra and blocks the flow of urine.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the United States.

Prostate cancer is most common in older men. In the U.S., about one out of five men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die of it.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about prostate cancer:


Prostate Cancer Prevention

Avoiding risk factors and increasing protective factors may help prevent cancer.

Avoiding cancerrisk factors such as smoking, being overweight, and lack of exercise may help prevent certain cancers. Increasing protective factors such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising may also help prevent some cancers. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about how you might lower your risk of cancer.

The following risk factors may increase the risk of prostate cancer:

Age

Prostate cancer is rare in men younger than 50 years of age. The chance of developing prostate cancer increases as men get older.

Family history of prostate cancer

A man whose father, brother, or son has had prostate cancer has a higher-than-average risk of prostate cancer.

Race

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men than in white men. African-American men with prostate cancer are more likely to die from the disease than white men with prostate cancer.

Hormones

The prostate needs male hormones to work the way it should. The main male sex hormone is testosterone. Testosterone helps the body develop and maintain male sex characteristics.

Testosterone is changed into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by an enzyme in the body. DHT is important for normal prostate growth but can also cause the prostate to get bigger and may play a part in the development of prostate cancer.

Folic acid

Folate is a kind of vitamin B that occurs naturally in some foods, such as green vegetables, beans and orange juice. Folic acid is a man-made form of folate that is found in vitamin supplements and fortified foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals. A 10-year study showed that the risk of prostate cancer was increased in men who took 1 milligram (mg) supplements of folic acid. However, the risk of prostate cancer was lower in men who had enough folate in their diets.

Dairy and calcium

A diet high in dairy foods and calcium may cause a small increase in the risk of prostate cancer.

The following protective factors may decrease the risk of prostate cancer:

Folate

Folate is a kind of vitamin B that occurs naturally in some foods, such as green vegetables, beans and orange juice. Folic acid is a man-made form of folate that is found in vitamin supplements and fortified foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals. A 10-year study showed that the risk of prostate cancer was lower in men who had enough folate in their diets. However, the risk of prostate cancer was increased in men who took 1 milligram (mg) supplements of folic acid.

Finasteride and Dutasteride

Finasteride and dutasteride are drugs used to lower the amount of male sex hormones made by the body. These drugs block the enzyme that changes testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Higher than normal levels of DHT may play a part in developing prostate cancer. Taking finasteride or dutasteride has been shown to lower the risk for prostate cancer, but it is not known if these drugs lower the risk of death from prostate cancer.

The Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) studied whether the drug finasteride can prevent prostate cancer in healthy men 55 years of age and older. This prevention study showed there were fewer prostate cancers in the group of men that took finasteride compared with the group of men that did not . Also, the men who took finasteride who did have prostate cancer had more aggressivetumors. The number of deaths from prostate cancer was the same in both groups. Men who took finasteride reported more side effects compared with the group of men that did not, including erectile dysfunction, loss of desire for sex, and enlarged breasts.

The Reduction by Dutasteride of Prostate Cancer Events Trial (REDUCE) studied whether the drug dutasteride can prevent prostate cancer in men aged 50 to 75 years at higher risk for the disease.This prevention study showed there were fewer prostate cancers in the group of men who took dutasteride compared with the group of men that did not. The number of less aggressive prostate cancers was lower, but the number of more aggressive prostate cancers was not. Men who took dutasteride reported more side effects than men who did not, including erectile dysfunction and loss of desire for sex.

The following have been proven not to affect the risk of prostate cancer, or their effects on prostate cancer risk are not known:

Selenium and vitamin E

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) studied whether taking vitamin E and selenium (a mineral) will prevent prostate cancer. The selenium and vitamin E were taken separately or together by healthy men 55 years of age and older (50 years of age and older for African-American men). The study showed that selenium and vitamin E did not decrease the risk of prostate cancer.

Diet

It is not known if decreasing fat or increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet helps decrease the risk of prostate cancer or death from prostate cancer.

Multivitamins

Regular use of multivitamins has not been proven to increase the risk of early or localized prostate cancer.

Lycopene

Some studies have shown that a diet high in lycopene may be linked to a decreased risk of prostate cancer, but other studies have not. It has not been proven that taking lycopene supplements decreases the risk of prostate cancer.

Cancer prevention clinical trials are used to study ways to prevent cancer.

Cancer prevention clinical trials are used to study ways to lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Some cancer prevention trials are conducted with healthy people who have not had cancer but who have an increased risk for cancer. Other prevention trials are conducted with people who have had cancer and are trying to prevent another cancer of the same type or to lower their chance of developing a new type of cancer. Other trials are done with healthy volunteers who are not known to have any risk factors for cancer.

The purpose of some cancer prevention clinical trials is to find out whether actions people take can prevent cancer. These may include eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, quitting smoking, or taking certain medicines, vitamins, minerals, or food supplements.

New ways to prevent prostate cancer are being studied in clinical trials.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials can be found in the Clinical Trials section of the NCI Web site. Check for clinical trials in NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry for prostate cancer prevention trials that are accepting patients.


Get More Information From NCI

Call 1-800-4-CANCER

For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Chat online

The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.

Write to us

For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:

  • NCI Public Inquiries Office

  • Suite 3036A

  • 6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322

  • Bethesda, MD 20892-8322

Search the NCI Web site

The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. For a quick search, use the search box in the upper right corner of each Web page. The results for a wide range of search terms will include a list of "Best Bets," editorially chosen Web pages that are most closely related to the search term entered.

There are also many other places to get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Hospitals in your area may have information about local and regional agencies that have information on finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems related to cancer treatment.

Find Publications

The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).


Changes to This Summary (06/17/2011)

The PDQcancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Editorial changes were made to this summary.


Questions or Comments About This Summary

If you have questions or comments about this summary, please send them to Cancer.gov through the Web site’s Contact Form. We can respond only to email messages written in English.


About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether a certain drug or nutrient can prevent cancer. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients and those who are at risk for cancer. During prevention clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new prevention method and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new method is better than one currently being used, the new method may become "standard." People who are at high risk for a certain type of cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).


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