Objective. Multi-parametric magnetic resonance imaging (mpMRI) has become an important tool for the detection of prostate cancer in the past two decades. Despite the high sensitivity of MRI for tissue characterization, it often suffers from a lack of specificity. Several well-established pre-processing tools are publicly available for improving image quality and removing both intra- and inter-patient variability in order to increase the diagnostic accuracy of MRI. To date, most of these pre-processing tools have largely been assessed individually. In this study we present a systematic evaluation of a multi-step mpMRI pre-processing pipeline to automate tumor localization within the prostate using a previously trained model.Approach. The study was conducted on 31 treatment-naïve prostate cancer patients with a PI-RADS-v2 compliant mpMRI examination. Multiple methods were compared for each pre-processing step: (1) bias field correction, (2) normalization, and (3) deformable multi-modal registration. Optimal parameter values were estimated for each step on the basis of relevant individual metrics. Tumor localization was then carried out via a model-based approach that takes both mpMRI and prior clinical knowledge features as input. A sequential optimization approach was adopted for determining the optimal parameters and techniques in each step of the pipeline.Main results. The application of bias field correction alone increased the accuracy of tumor localization (area under the curve (AUC) = 0.77;p-value = 0.004) over unprocessed data (AUC = 0.74). Adding normalization to the pre-processing pipeline further improved diagnostic accuracy of the model to an AUC of 0.85 (p-value = 0.000 12). Multi-modal registration of apparent diffusion coefficient images to T2-weighted images improved the alignment of tumor locations in all but one patient, resulting in a slight decrease in accuracy (AUC = 0.84;p-value = 0.30).Significance. Overall, our findings suggest that the combined effect of multiple pre-processing steps with optimal values has the ability to improve the quantitative classification of prostate cancer using mpMRI. Clinical trials: NCT03378856 and NCT03367702.