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What to know if you have a family history of prostate cancer

A father and son sitting on a couch drinking coffee.

Most men with prostate cancer don't have a family history of the disease. But if a member of your family has been diagnosed, you are at increased risk and you may want to talk to your doctor about earlier screening.

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. By some estimates, about 1 in 8 men will develop it.

And if someone in your family has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may especially wonder, "Will I be one of them?"

A family history does raise risk. For example: Having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles the risk of getting the disease.

And that risk is higher for men with several affected relatives, especially if those relatives were young when their cancer was detected. That may be a red flag of inherited cancer. It happens when genes that raise prostate cancer risk are passed down from one generation to the next.

A conversation worth having

If you're concerned about your family history and how it may affect your risk for prostate cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about screening and what's right for you.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), screening can help find prostate cancer before it causes symptoms and when it may be at an early, more treatable stage.

One of the screening tests doctors use looks for a protein in the blood called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). A high PSA level can be sign of prostate cancer. (Doctors may also perform a digital rectal exam to feel the prostate gland.)

Finding prostate cancer early with a PSA test might seem like a good thing. Some prostate cancers can grow rapidly and become life-threatening. However, most progress so slowly that they never cause symptoms or become dangerous.

But because doctors sometimes can't tell which tumors are dangerous when they're detected, men may be treated for tumors that would never have caused problems. And treatment for prostate cancer may cause side effects like impotence or incontinence.

The ACS advises men talk to their doctors about the pros and cons of PSA testing at:

  • Age 40 if you have more than one first-degree relative (father or brother) diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age (younger than 65).
  • Age 45 if you have a first-degree relative with prostate cancer diagnosed at an early age or you're African American. African American men are at increased risk for prostate cancer.
  • Age 50 if you are at average risk of prostate cancer and are expected to live for at least 10 more years.

Reviewed 7/23/2021

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