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Ask an Expert: Is Prostate Cancer Genetic?


Read Time: 3 minutes
Samantha Greenberg, MS, MPH. CGC

Samantha Greenberg

Prostate cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. The National Cancer Institute states that about 1 in 8 males will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. The average person's chance of getting prostate cancer increases with age. Yet sometimes the chance of getting prostate cancer can be passed down through our genes.

Here, Huntsman Cancer Institute genetic counselor Samantha Greenberg answers questions about prostate cancer.

Is prostate cancer genetic?

When someone has an aggressive type of prostate cancer—meaning it forms, grows, and spreads quickly—there is about a 10% chance it is inherited. This means the person has a change in their genes, or a mutation, that put them at higher risk for prostate cancer since they were born. Knowing a person's prostate cancer has a hereditary cause can change treatment and impact family members.

Do I need genetic testing if I have prostate cancer?

This is a great question to ask your doctor. Most people with aggressive prostate cancer are recommended for genetic testing to see if their prostate cancer is inherited. Also, all people with prostate cancer who have a strong family history of prostate, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, colon, or other cancers would benefit from genetic testing.

Why does a family history of cancers that aren't prostate matter if I have prostate cancer?

Having a genetic change, or mutation, can put people at increased risk for many different cancers. If you have family members who have had breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancers, for example, it can be a sign of a hereditary cancer syndrome.

If prostate cancer is hereditary, does that mean only men are at risk?

This is a very common question, and the answer is no! People with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can have an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. If someone with prostate cancer has a BRCA mutation, then their children need genetic testing because they have a 50% of having the same mutation, and therefore a higher chance of breast, ovarian, prostate, or pancreatic cancer themselves.

If people with breasts and ovaries have a BRCA mutation, there are ways to detect cancer early and reduce cancer risk. For example, someone with a very high risk of breast cancer may get screenings such as mammograms and MRI each year, or choose risk-reducing surgery.

Our genetic counseling team at Huntsman Cancer Institute can be a great resource for more information. We work closely with you and your care team to ensure genetic testing is done.

What can I do if I have a strong family history of prostate cancer or a hereditary risk?

The Prostate Cancer Risk Clinic is a one-stop shop for people who need prostate cancer screening due to a strong family history or known hereditary risk, such as mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, ATM, PALB2, and CHEK2 genes. Patients can review screening guidelines with a genetic counselor and a doctor and schedule appointments through this clinic.

For people who need breast or ovarian cancer screening, our Breast Cancer Risk Clinic is another option that allows us to provide screening and risk-reduction options.

Cancer touches all of us.