Researchers at Cancer Council NSW have shed light on factors that contribute to prostate cancer risk and confirmed the association with well-known prostate cancer risk factors such as family history. Their study also found that adult body size, sexual activity and adolescent sexual development are among the factors that appear to raise the risk of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian males, with one in five men at risk of developing the disease before the age of 85. While the causes of prostate cancer are poorly understood and more research into the exact mechanisms of prostate cancer development is needed, we do know that hormonal factors appear to be important in the initiation of this disease. A number of risk factors, such as obesity and sexual activity, are associated with hormonal activity, so the team has set out to explore whether hormonal changes earlier in life may be associated with a later risk of prostate cancer.
The study drew on data from the Cancer, Lifestyle and Evaluation of Risk (CLEAR) study – an all incident cancer case-control study of NSW residents aged 18 years and over. Nearly 2,000 CLEAR participants were included in this specific study, providing important insight into prostate cancer risk factors across NSW.
The team identified factors that appear to double the risk of prostate cancer, such as having a father with a history of prostate cancer, a previous diagnosis of prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia, and the number of sexual partners in a lifetime.
Being overweight or obese was also associated with increased risk, but to a lesser extent. The impact of obesity on the risk of developing prostate cancer is a growing concern, with 70% of Australian men currently being overweight or obese.
No association was found between prostate cancer and certain suspected risk factors such as circumcision, vasectomy, vertex balding, erectile function, acne, asthma or diabetes.
Many risk factors have individual associations with prostate cancer, including age, obesity and family history. This study is the first to examine the independent and interactive effects of a range of risk factors in the development of prostate cancer.
This research has also highlighted the need for more data and Cancer Council NSW is committed to conducting and funding studies into the area. Men with any of the risk factors associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer, particularly the well-established risks like family history, should speak to their GP. Cancer Council NSW also recommends that men aim to reach a healthy weight.
Dr Visalini Nair-Shalliker
Cancer Council NSW
Associate Professor David Smith
Associate Professor Freddy Sitas
Professor Bruce Armstrong
Associate Professor Manish Patel
Professor Dianne O’Connell