In developed countries, prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer, and the third most common cause of death from cancer in men. Apart from age and ethnic origin, a positive family history is probably the strongest known risk factor. Clinically, prostate cancer is diagnosed as local or advanced, and treatments range from surveillance to radical local treatment or androgen-deprivation treatment. Androgen deprivation reduces symptoms in about 70-80% of patients with advanced prostate cancer, but most tumours relapse within 2 years to an incurable androgen-independent state. The recorded incidence of prostate cancer has substantially increased in the past two decades, probably because of the introduction of screening with prostate-specific antigen, the use of improved biopsy techniques for diagnosis, and increased public awareness. Trends in mortality from the disease are less clearcut. Mortality changes are not of the same magnitude as the changes in incidence, and in some countries mortality has been stable or even decreased. The disparity between reported incidence and mortality rates leads to the probable conclusion that only a small proportion of diagnosed low-risk prostate cancers will progress to life-threatening disease during the lifetime of the patient.