The risk of developing advanced prostate cancer has been linked to body weight for the first time, following our review of the evidence as part of our Continuous Update Project1. Our latest report, the most in-depth review to date, analysed 104 studies involving more than 9.8 million men, of whom over 191,000 developed prostate cancer.

The research shows that being overweight or obese can increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer, which is when a cancer from the prostate has spread to other parts of the body. In fact, scientists estimate that nine per cent of advanced prostate cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if men maintained a healthy weight. Currently, around 2 in 3 men in the UK are overweight or obese.

Over 100 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the UK every day – that’s over 40,000 cases a year. It is the most common cancer in UK men and there are currently more than a quarter of a million men living with the disease.

There are different types of prostate cancer, the most common of which grows slowly and may never cause health problems. However advanced prostate cancer, which can be life-threatening, accounts for around 20 per cent of all cases. We now know that there are steps men can take to lower their risk of developing the advanced form of the disease.

Who is most at risk?

As with all cancers, the risk of developing prostate cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. These are some of the most important factors:

NEW Weight

There is strong new evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of advanced prostate cancer, which can be fatal.

Age

Men under the age of 50 have a very low risk of developing prostate cancer. The risk increases as men get older. Most men in their eighties will have a prostate cancer, but it may never cause symptoms or problems in their lifetime. In other words, it’s often not life-threatening.

Family history

Risk is higher if a man has a close relative who has been affected by the disease. Around 5-9 per cent of cases are linked to genes or family history.

Ethnicity

Men of African-Caribbean or African descent have a higher risk of prostate cancer than white men. Asian and Chinese men have a lower risk than white men.

UPDATED RESEARCH

You may have heard that certain foods can affect the risk of prostate cancer. Some of the evidence has changed due to developments in our knowledge since our last report in 2007. These include:

Calcium and dairy foods

Previous research found that a diet high in calcium (similar to drinking more than one litre or two pints of milk a day) increased the risk of prostate cancer, but the newer evidence is less clear. That is why we don’t give specific advice about dairy foods or other foods containing calcium.

Lycopene

Research previously showed that eating foods containing lycopene (a pigment found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables) protects men from prostate cancer, but the latest studies have not been able to confirm this.

What can health professionals do?

  • Encourage men to maintain a healthy weight throughout life
  • order or download our updated Men’s Health Guide 
  • Raise awareness of the link between weight and advanced prostate cancer during Cancer Prevention Week (11-17 May) and Men’s Health Week (15-21 June)

Published in Spring 2015 issue

References

  1. WCRF International, Continuous Update Project (CUP)