Her Breasts and His Prostate…So Similar, So Mysterious

Andrew Siegel MD  7/18/15

prostate breast

(Thank you, Wikimedia, for above image)

The female breasts and the male prostate are both sources of fascination, curiosity, and fear. Hidden deep in the pelvis at the crossroads of the male urinary and reproductive systems, the prostate is arguably man’s center of gravity. On the other hand, the breasts—with an equal aura of mystery and power—are situated in the chest superficial to the pectorals, contributing to the alluring female form and allowing ready access for the hungry infant, curiously an erogenous zone as well as a feeding zone.

Interestingly enough, the breasts and prostate share much in common, both serving important “nutritional” roles. Each functions to manufacture a milky fluid; in the case of the breasts, the milk serving as nourishment for infants and in the case of the prostate, the “milk” serving as sustenance for sperm cells, which demand intense nutrition to support their arduous  marathon journey traversing the female reproductive tract.

Breasts are composed of glandular tissue that produces milk, and ducts that transport the milk to the nipple. The remainder of the breast consists of fatty tissue. The glandular tissue is sustained by the female sex hormone estrogen and after menopause when estrogen levels decline, the glandular tissue withers, with the fatty tissue predominating.

The prostate—on the other hand—is made up of glandular tissue that produces prostate “milk,” and ducts that empty this fluid into the urethra at the time of sexual climax. At ejaculation the prostate fluid combines with other reproductive secretions and sperm to form semen. The remainder of the prostate consists of fibro-muscular tissue. The glandular tissue is sustained by the male sex hormone testosterone and after age 40 there is a slow and gradual increase in the size of the prostate gland because of glandular and fibro-muscular cell growth.

Access to the breasts as mammary feeding zones is via stimulation of the erect nipples through the act of nursing. Access to the prostate fluid is via stimulation of the erect penis, with the release of semen and its prostate fluid component at the time of ejaculation.

Both the breasts and prostate can be considered to be reproductive organs since they are vital to nourishing infants and sperm, respectively. At the same time, they are sexual organs. The breasts can be thought of as accessories with a dual role that not only provide milk to infants, but also function as erogenous zones that attract the interest of the opposite sex and contribute positively to the sexual and thus, reproductive process. Similarly, the prostate is both a reproductive and sexual organ, since sexual stimulation resulting in climax is the means of accessing the prostate’s reproductive function.

Both the breasts and prostate are susceptible to similar disease processes including infection, inflammation and cancer. Congestion of the breast and prostate glands can result in a painful mastitis and prostatitis, respectively. Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (accounting for 26% of newly diagnosed cancers with men having a 1 in 7 lifetime risk) and breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (accounting for 29% of newly diagnosed cancers with women having a 1 in 8 lifetime risk). Both breast and prostate tissue are dependent upon the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, respectively, and one mode of treatment for both breast cancer and prostate cancer is suppression of these hormones with medication, e.g., Tamoxifen and Lupron, respectively. Both breast and prostate cancer incidence increase with aging. The median age of breast cancer at diagnosis is the early 60’s and there are 232,000 new cases per year, 40,000 deaths (the second most common form of cancer death, after lung cancer) and there about 3 million breast cancer survivors in the USA. The median age of prostate cancer at diagnosis is the mid 60’s and there are 221,000 new cases per year, 27,500 deaths (the second most common form of cancer death, after lung cancer) and there are about 2.5 million prostate cancer survivors in the USA.

Both breast and prostate cancer are often detected during a screening examination before symptoms have developed. Breast cancer is often picked up via mammography, whereas prostate cancer is often identified via an elevated or accelerated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test. Alternatively, breast and prostate cancer are detected when an abnormal lump is found on breast exam or digital rectal exam of the prostate, respectively.

Both breast and prostate cells may develop a non-invasive form of cancer known as carcinoma in situ—ductal carcinoma-in-situ (DCIS) and high grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (HGPIN), respectively—non-invasive forms in which the abnormal cells have not grown beyond the layer of cells where they originated, often predating invasive cancer by years.

Family history is relevant with both breast and prostate cancer since there can be a genetic predisposition to both types and having a first degree relative with the disease will typically increase one’s risk. Imaging tests used in the diagnosis and evaluation of both breast and prostate cancers are similar with both ultrasonography and MRI being very useful. Treatment modalities for both breast and prostate cancer share much in common with important roles for surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

In a further twist to the relationship between breast and prostate cancer, a recent study showed that women with close male relatives with prostate cancer are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Compared to women with no family history of breast or prostate cancer, those with a family history of both were 80% more likely to develop breast cancer.

Breast and Prostate Cancer Myths and Facts

“Only old people get breast or prostate cancer.

Fact: 25% of women with breast cancer develop it before age 50, whereas less than 5% of men with prostate cancer develop it before age 50; however, many men in their 50s are diagnosed with the disease.

“Men can’t get breast cancer and women can’t get prostate cancer.”

Fact: 1700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer with 450 deaths on an annual basis.  Women have structures called the Skene’s glands, which are the female homologue of the male prostate gland. On very rare occasions, the female “prostate” can develop cancer. The Skene’s glands are thought to contribute to “female ejaculation” at the time of sexual climax. 

“All lumps in the breast or prostate are cancer.”

Fact: 80% of breast lumps are due to benign conditions as are 50-80% of prostate “nodules.”  If an abnormality is found, further evaluation is necessary.  

“It’s not worth getting screened for breast cancer because of the USPSTF (United States Preventive Services Task Force) recommendation against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years and against clinicians teaching women how to perform breast self-examination.  It’s not worth getting screened for prostate cancer because the USPSTF also recommended against prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based screening for prostate cancer.”

Fact: In my opinion, the USPSTF has done a great deal of harm to public health in the USA with their recommendations. The goal of screening is to pick up cancers in their earliest stages at times when treatment is likely to be most effective. Not all cancers need to be treated and the treatment can differ quite a bit based upon specifics, but screening populations at risk is a no-brainer.  For breast cancer and prostate cancer–the most common cancer in each gender–it is important to screen aggressively to obtain the necessary information to enable doctors and their patients make sensible decisions, which are individualized and nuanced, depending on a number of factors.

The reader is referred to a terrific recent article in the NY Times concerning screening for prostate cancer: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/06/opinion/bring-back-prostate-screening.html

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29


A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in your email in box go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com.  Work in progress is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Sexual, Urinary and Pelvic Health.

Co-creator of Private Gym pelvic floor muscle training program for men: http://www.privategym.com—also available on Amazon.

The Private Gym program is the go-to means of achieving pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance. It is a comprehensive, interactive, easy-to-use, medically sanctioned and FDA registered follow-along exercise program that builds upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel. It is also the first program designed specifically to teach men how to perform the exercises and a clinical trial has demonstrated its effectiveness in fostering more rigid and durable erections, improved ejaculatory control and heightened orgasms.

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