Race matters when it comes to obesity and prostate cancer

Could obesity be to blame for the higher rates of prostate cancer in African American men?  According to a new study from the University Of Washington School Of Nursing and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle – yes, obesity might play a role.  The study suggests that obesity, a known risk factor for prostate cancer, poses an even greater risk for African American men.


According to the National Cancer Institute there were about233,000 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in America last year. There were also an estimated 29,480 deaths from prostate cancer in 2014.  Prostate cancer has been found to occur more often in men of African descent, whether African-American or Afro-Caribbean.   Black men are actually more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as their Caucasian counterparts.  The reasons for the racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to prostate cancer are still unclear, but what we do know is that this silent-killer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic men, compared to those who are Black or White. 

Aside from race, other prostate cancer risk factors include:

• Genetics: Men with a father or brother with prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease; having 3 or more relatives with prostate cancer makes a diagnosis almost certain

• Age: More than 65 percent of prostate cancers occur in men over 65

• Weight: Obese men, those with a BMI over 30, are 33 percent more likely to die after a prostate cancer diagnosis


And of course the race risk factor means that African American men have a 60% increased risk of prostate cancer over whitemen. Not only do African American men have the highest rate of new prostate cancer cases in the U.S., but they also have the highest proportion of aggressive prostate cancers.  Researchers say that targeting obesity could help reduce the number of black men affected by this cancer down.


The study used data from a previous trial that followed the health of about 3,500 African American and almost 23,000 non-Hispanic white men over ten years from 2001 to 2011. All the men analyzed were at least 55 years or older.  About 6 years into the study, they found 270 prostate cancer cases among the African American men and 1,453 among white men.  Just as previous statistics show, that’s about a 60% increased risk of prostate cancer in black men compared to white.   When reviewing the body mass index, or BMI, of participants – Black men with BMI’s that categorized them as obese had a 103% higher risk of prostate cancer.   Obesity was tied to additional prostate cancer risk among African Americans, but not among white men. Black men who had normal weight and BMI only had a 28% higher risk of getting prostate cancer compared to white men.  This is a huge difference.  The researchers can’t explain why African American men’s risk may be influenced more by obesity than it is for white men, so clearly more research is needed.  But if losing weight can reduce your risk of prostate cancer by 70%, then it’s definitely worth a shot.