Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed male malignancy. Despite compelling epidemiology, there are no definitive aetiological clues linking development to frequency. Pre-malignancies such as proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA) and prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) yield insights into the initiating events of prostate cancer, as they supply a background "field" for further transformation. An inflammatory aetiology, linked to recurrent prostatitis, and heterologous signalling from reactive stroma and infiltrating immune cells may result in cytokine addiction of cancer cells, including a tumour-initiating population also known as cancer stem cells (CSCs). In prostate tumours, the background mutational rate is rarely exceeded, but genetic change via profound sporadic chromosomal rearrangements results in copy number variations and aberrant gene expression. In cancer, dysfunctional differentiation is imposed upon the normal epithelial lineage, with disruption/disappearance of the basement membrane, loss of the contiguous basal cell layer and expansion of the luminal population. An initiating role for androgen receptor (AR) is attractive, due to the luminal phenotype of the tumours, but alternatively a pool of CSCs, which express little or no AR, has also been demonstrated. Indolent and aggressive tumours may also arise from different stem or progenitor cells. Castrate resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) remains the inevitable final stage of disease following treatment. Time-limited effectiveness of second-generation anti-androgens, and the appearance of an AR-neuroendocrine phenotype imply that metastatic disease is reliant upon the plasticity of the CSC population, and indeed CSC gene expression profiles are most closely related to those identified in CRPCs.