If you're curious about prostate cancer rates, you may be wondering if prostate cancer risk increases with age. The answer is yes. Before the age of 40, it is uncommon, but prevalence increases rapidly in men over age 40 -- and continues to rise thereafter.
How Do We Know the True Prevalence of Prostate Cancer?
The only way to definitively diagnose prostate cancer is by taking some of the prostate tissue and looking at it under a microscope to determine if any cancerous cells are present.
This is mostly done with prostate biopsy when there is some reason to be concerned that prostate cancer may be present (such as an elevated PSA level, an abnormal digital rectal exam, or urinary symptoms).
In order to determine how common prostate cancer truly is, however, biopsies would have to be done on lots and lots of men -- regardless of whether they needed it or not. This plan obviously has some serious drawbacks and will likely never be done.
Instead, prostate tissue can be analyzed after death during an autopsy. It is through autopsy studies that scientists have been able to determine the actual prevalence of prostate cancer among men of various ages.
Prostate Cancer Rates by Age
One project that analyzed autopsy studies from around the world came to the following conclusion regarding the actual rate of prostate cancer in men of different ages:
- 20 to 30 years, 2% to 8%
- 31 to 40 years: 9% to 31%
- 41 to 50 years: 3% to 43%
- 51 to 60 years: 5% to 46%
- 61 to 70 years: 14% to 70%
- 71 to 80 years: 31% to 83%
- 81 to 90 years: 40% to 73%
Obviously, some of these age ranges show a large degree of variability in the prevalence of cancer. This variability is thought to be due to differences in the diagnostic techniques used by the various pathologists and to geographic differences. (Men in some parts of the world have much higher rates of prostate cancer than others.)
Overall, though, this gives a pretty good picture of just how common prostate cancer is and how dramatically its prevalence increases with age.
Delongchamps NB, Singh A, Haas GP. The role of prevalence in the diagnosis of prostate cancer. Cancer Control. 2006 Jul;13(3):158-68.
Hankey BF, Feuer EJ, Clegg LX, et al. Cancer surveillance series: interpreting trends in prostate cancer--part I: Evidence of the effects of screening in recent prostate cancer incidence, mortality, and survival rates. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999 Jun 16;91(12):1017-24.