What Causes Prostate Cancer?

DNA Helix

Researchers are unclear on what exactly causes prostate cancer, but are on the lookout for different risk factors that may encourage abnormal cell growth that leads to cancer.


Prostate cancer is caused by changes in the genetic makeup (DNA) of a normal prostate cell. DNA is the chemical in our cells that control how our cells function. It is passed down from your parents, thus explaining why you may share several characteristics with them, but DNA affects much more than your appearance.


Some genes govern our cell’s life cycle; when to grow, to divide into new cells, and when to die:


  • Genes that assist cells with growth, division, and staying alive are called oncogenes.

  • Tumor Suppressor Genes do as the name suggests, they keep cell division under control, repair mistakes in DNA, or cause cells to die at the appropriate time.

Inherited Gene Mutations

Some genes that have been mutated and passed on from one generation to the next are called inherited genes. Cancer caused by inherited genes is called hereditary cancer. Mutated genes that have been linked to hereditary prostate cancer include the following:


  • RNASEL (FORMERLY HPC1): The role of this gene is to suppress tumors by helping cells die when something goes wrong internally. The inherited mutation of this gene would allow abnormal cells to live longer than they should, which leads to increased cell division, and eventually prostate cancer.

  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: Inherited mutations in these genes are usually found in breast and ovarian cancer, but alterations of these genes have also been found to affect prostate cancer in a few cases. The role of these tumor suppressing genes is to repair abnormalities in a cell’s DNA; if the abnormalities cannot be repaired, then they will cause the cell to die.

  • DNA mismatch repair genes (MSH2 and MLH1): When cells divide, they are to make an exact replica of themselves. These genes help repair DNA mismatches when the cell divides. Mutations in these genes lead to a condition called Lynch Syndrome, which puts you at a higher risk of colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.

  • HOXB13: Mutations of this gene can result in early onset of prostate cancer. It plays a crucial role in the development of the prostate gland, and mutations of it are extremely rare.

There is ongoing research being conducted to find more inherited gene mutations that can cause hereditary prostate cancers.


Acquired Gene Mutations

Most gene mutations related to prostate cancer are developed during a man’s lifetime and are not passed on to children. The abnormality is caused by the original mutated cell and is called an acquired gene mutation.


Whenever a cell divides, it must create an exact copy of itself. This process is not always perfect and sometimes errors occur, resulting in faulty DNA in the newly created cell. Researchers are unsure how often these changes are caused by other factors (hormone levels, diet, etc) or just a random occurrence. In any case, the faster cells divide, the more opportunities there are for cell mutation, which ultimately leads to a larger likelihood of developing prostate cancer.


For instance, the male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone, promote prostate cell growth. High levels of androgens can lead to increased risk of prostate cancer.


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