Harvard Men's Health Watch

Prostate cancer in younger and older men

Most malignancies become progressively more common as people age. For prostate cancer, the trend is particularly striking. The estimates of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force demonstrate the effect of age on a man's risk:

Age group

Prostate cancer risk

50–59

10%–42%

60–69

17%–38%

70–79

25%–66%

80 and over

up to 90%

Until PSA testing became widespread in the early 1990s, most prostate cancers in younger men were detected because of symptoms or abnormal findings on a doctor's digital rectal exam. In contrast, many of the prostate cancers in older men were diagnosed as incidental findings in the course of surgery for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or during autopsies, after a man had died of other causes. As a result, younger men often had more advanced disease at the time of their diagnosis than older men, so younger men seemed to respond less well to therapy. That led to the widespread belief that prostate cancer tends to be very aggressive in young men while it's often quite indolent in older gents.

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