Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Prostate Cancer

The exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown, but certain factors can increase your risk of developing this type of cancer. Risk factors include:
  • Age: Men 50 and older are at a higher risk of prostate cancer
  • Race: Prostate cancer tends to be more common in African-American men and less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men than Caucasian men
  • Family history: There appears to be a genetic component to prostate cancer. If your father or brother has prostate cancer, your risk of developing it is higher
  • Poor diet: Men who eat an unhealthy diet high in high-fat dairy products and meat tend to be at increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Obesity: Obesity has been linked to a higher rate of a more aggressive type of prostate cancer
  • Chemicals in the workplace: Men who are in contact with toxic chemicals at work may have a higher risk for prostate cancer

Early detection

Two screening tests can look for prostate cancer:

  • PSA blood test: This test looks at the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. A higher level means it is more likely that a man has prostate cancer
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE): In this exam, the health care provider inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for abnormal areas. The DRE takes just a few seconds

Not all healthcare providers agree that prostate cancer screening is useful. First, PSA tests can have false-positive or false-negative results, resulting in either unnecessary stress and possible harm from the tests or, a lack of follow-up and treatment. Second, finding prostate cancer early may not be helpful.

Prostate cancer often grows slowly and most often affects older men, so finding it early may not lead to a longer life. Many men with prostate cancer die years later of other causes without having symptoms or being treated for their cancer. Treatment for prostate cancer can have serious side effects, such as erection problems and lack of urine control.


Abnormal results on these screening tests can mean that a man may have prostate cancer, but these tests can’t diagnose prostate cancer. A prostate biopsy is needed for a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy is the removal of a small piece of tissue to be sent to a lab to check under a microscope for abnormal cells. 

A core needle biopsy, the most common biopsy for prostate cancer, is most often performed by a urologist. The procedure takes about 10 minutes and is often done in the urologist’s office. During a prostate biopsy:

  • The area near your prostate is numbed with anesthetic
  • An ultrasound probe is put into the rectum. This uses sound waves to create images on a computer. It helps guide the healthcare provider as to where to take the small pieces of tissue from your prostate
  • A thin, hollow needle is used to take the samples from the prostate through the wall of the rectum. The needle moves in and out very quickly. Because of this, you may not feel much discomfort
  • About 12 samples are taken from different areas of the prostate
  • To prevent infection, you may be given an antibiotic medicine

After the procedure, you might have soreness in the area, blood in your urine or semen and bleeding from your rectum. If the biopsy confirms you have prostate cancer, your physician may also order additional tests to determine if the cancer has spread:

Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer?