THURSDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease may be a risk factor for prostate cancer, a new study suggests.

If this link is confirmed in future research, it means that lifestyle changes that reduce heart disease risk -- such as weight loss, exercise and a healthy diet -- may also protect men against prostate cancer, the Duke Cancer Institute researchers said.

"What's good for the heart may be good for the prostate," study author Dr. Jean-Alfred Thomas II, a postdoctoral fellow in the division of urology, said in a Duke Medicine news release.

He and his colleagues analyzed data from 6,390 men in a four-year clinical trial testing a drug's effectiveness in reducing prostate cancer risk. Of those men, 547 reported a history of coronary artery disease before the start of the trial.

The Duke researchers found that men with coronary artery disease had a 35 percent greater risk of developing prostate cancer over time and a 24 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer within the first two years of the study compared to men who did not have heart disease.

Four years into the clinical trial, men with coronary artery disease had a 74 percent higher risk of prostate cancer than those with no heart disease.

"We controlled for a number of risk factors, including hypertension, taking statins or aspirin," Thomas said. "We don't have a good grasp on what's causing the link, but we are observing this association."

The study appears online this month in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States, and prostate cancer is the second most deadly type of cancer for men in the United States, the release noted.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about prostate cancer risk.