For at least two decades, patient advocacy groups have pushed to increase awareness for men with a family history of prostate cancer (PCa). The most important fact is that men whose father or brother had PCa are more that twice as likely to develop the disease themselves. In addition, we now know that men who carry the BRCA mutations for breast cancer have a higher risk for PCa. There also appears to be a somewhat greater PCa potential for men whose relatives had colorectal or ovarian cancer.
Regarding men who have a family history of PCa, many of them knew sad stories of their dad’s pre-PSA era death due to late diagnosis, or their brother’s unfortunate need for diapers after having a prostatectomy. These men are living with a cautionary tale of woe. So, unless such a man is in complete denial, it’s more than likely he’s keeping an eye on his prostate health. He has talked with his doctor about his hereditary risk, he has an annual PSA blood test, and if it becomes suspicious, he has a multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) of his gland to see what’s going on.
Guess what? Men who follow that recommendation have a competitive survival edge. A new study out of England found that the stronger the family history, the better men do in terms of overall survival. [i] The size of the study’s data pool is impressive. The authors analyzed PCa cases as far back as 1992, for a total study population of 16,340 men and their relatives. They factored in family history not only of PCa, but also breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers.
According to Medical News Today, “The study found that a man with prostate cancer who comes from a family with one first-degree or second-degree relative who has or has had cancer is 15% more likely to survive prostate cancer.” In fact, he has a better chance of living longer in general! This underscores the value of regular checkups that may find other cancers or chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease at a stage when early intervention can add years to their life. What’s especially startling is that men with at least one first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) with a history of cancer actually had better all-cause longevity than men with no family history whatsoever!
How do the authors account for the survival advantage for men with a genetic cancer history? They write, that “it is likely that reductions in mortality are due almost completely to a greater awareness of the disease.”[ii] This points to the importance of screening and awareness programs, especially for men whose genetic background includes cancer.
We at the Sperling Prostate Center heartily agree that monitoring one’s wellness, regardless of family background, is important for a long and healthy life. We encourage men to see their primary care physician once a year even if they feel 100% fine, and to begin PSA screening at age 45 (age 40 if they have known risk factors for PCa). It may turn out to be a life-saver, and at the very least it can do no harm if a suspicious result is followed by a noninvasive mpMRI.
And, of course, don’t forget the value of positive lifestyle choices. A man is so much more than his prostate gland. Diet, exercise, stress management, strong ties with family and friends, a positive outlook, and a sense of purpose can add up to what we all want: a long and happy life.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.
[i] Brook MN, Ní Raghallaigh H, Govindasami K, Dadaev T et al. Family History of Prostate Cancer and Survival Outcomes in the UK Genetic Prostate Cancer Study. Eur Urol. 2023 Mar;83(3):257-266.