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Knowing your risk of prostate cancer

Last Modified: September 02, 2020


Prostate Cancer

This post was written by Adam Thomas, MD, PPG – Urology.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. As a practicing urologist for more than 15 years, one of the most common questions men ask me is, “Doesn’t every man get prostate cancer?” In some respects, this is true ... if you live long enough. During my residency, I was taught “the rule of thumb” when it pertains to prostate cancer: Your age is about the chance you have of getting prostate cancer. While this statement overstates how common the cancer truly is, it does drive home the point that it is very common. Men older than 50 are at risk. 

The statistics

In 2018, a total of 174,650 new cases were diagnosed in the U.S. This represents 20% of all solid organ cancer diagnoses for 2018 and makes prostate cancer the No.1 diagnosed cancer.  This is important for many reasons. For a man 50 or over, it means that he needs to get screened. For a man who has had prostate cancer, it means he is not alone. And for the partners of these men, they are not alone either. 

Family history

It is well known that the incidence of prostate cancer is higher in families with a history of prostate cancer. First degree relatives are what counts the most. The more first degree relatives with prostate cancer you have, the higher your risk. For a man with one first degree relative, the risk is about 2-3 times higher. For a man with four first degree relatives, the risk is about 7-8 times higher.  Men should talk about prostate cancer with their family members. 

Men should also ask about ovarian and breast cancer in their families. The BRCA 2 mutation is widely known to the public to increase the risk of breast cancer. But men with this mutation also have a greater risk of prostate cancer. Testing is available for families that have multiple members with these cancers. This can be very powerful to help identify others at risk in their family.

The main takeaway here is that prostate cancer is common, and men who are older than 50 years of age or those with a family history of prostate cancer, breast cancer or ovarian cancer are potentially at an elevated risk. Be proactive by obtaining knowledge of your family’s medical history and keeping up with routine screenings.


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