Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide. The clinical behaviour of prostate cancer ranges from low-grade indolent tumours that never develop into clinically significant disease to aggressive, invasive tumours that may progress rapidly to metastatic disease and death. Therefore, there is an urgent clinical need to detect high-grade cancers and to differentiate them from the indolent, slow-growing tumours. Conventional methods of cancer detection-such as levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in serum, digital rectal examination, and random biopsies-are limited in their sensitivity, specificity, or both. The combination of conventional anatomical MRI and functional magnet resonance sequences-known as multiparametric MRI (mp-MRI)-is emerging as an accurate tool for identifying clinically relevant tumours owing to its ability to localize them. In this Review, we discuss the value of mp-MRI in localized and metastatic prostate cancer, highlighting its role in the detection, staging, and treatment planning of prostate cancer.