Breasts and prostates are organs that are sources of fascination, curiosity, and fear. Breasts – situated in the chest, superficial to the pectorals – contribute strongly to the alluring female form and provide ready access to the hungry infant. It is an erogenous as well as a feeding zone. On the other hand, the prostate gland – with an equal aura of mystery and power – is hidden deep in the pelvis at the crossroads of the male urinary and reproductive systems, arguably a man’s center of gravity.
What Are The Breasts And The Prostate Made Of?
Breasts are composed of a glandular tissue that produces milk and ducts that transport the milk to the nipple. The remainder of the breast consists of fatty tissue. This glandular tissue is sustained by the female sex hormone estrogen and after menopause – when estrogen levels decline – it withers, with fatty tissue predominating.
The prostate, on the other hand, is made up of a glandular tissue that produces prostate “milk” and ducts that empty this fluid into the urethra during sexual climax. At the time of ejaculation, the prostate fluid combines with other reproductive gland secretions and sperm to form semen. The remainder of the prostate consists of fibromuscular tissue. The glandular tissue is sustained by the male sex hormone testosterone and after the age of 40, there is a slow and gradual increase in the size of the prostate gland because of glandular and fibromuscular cell growth.
Similarities Between The Breasts And The Prostate
1. Fluid Production
The breasts and prostate share much in common, both serving important “nutritional” roles. One of the functions of these organs is to manufacture a milky fluid. In the case of the breasts, it is a product of lactation, serving as nourishment for infants. In the case of the prostate, it is a product of ejaculation, serving as sustenance for sperm cells (that demand intense nutrition to support their marathon journey through the female reproductive tract).
Access to the breasts as mammary feeding zones is via the stimulation of erect nipples through the act of nursing. Access to the prostate fluid is via the stimulation of the erect penis, with the release of semen and its prostate fluid component at the time of ejaculation.
2. Sexual And Reproductive Functions
Both breasts and prostate are sexual organs but can be considered reproductive organs since they are vital to nourishing infants and sperm, respectively. Breasts can be thought of as accessories that provide milk and are erogenous. They attract the interest of the opposite sex and contribute positively to the sexual and, consequently, reproductive process. Similarly, the prostate is a sexual and reproductive organ since sexual stimulation that results in a climax is the means of accessing the prostate’s reproductive function.
3. Susceptibility To Diseases
Both organs are susceptible to similar disease processes such as infections, inflammation, and cancer. Congestion of the breast and prostate glands can result in painful mastitis and prostatitis, respectively.
Similarities Between Breast Cancer And Prostate Cancer
Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common in women (accounting for 29% of newly diagnosed cancers, with a 1 in 8 lifetime risk for women) and prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (accounting for 26% of newly diagnosed cancers, with a 1 in 7 lifetime risk for men). Breast and prostate cancers are the second most common reason for cancer-related death, after lung cancer, in women and men, respectively. The incidence of both increases with aging.
Breast and prostate cells may develop a noninvasive form of cancer known as carcinoma in situ: ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (HGPIN), respectively. In these cases, the abnormal cells do not grow beyond the layer of cells where they originated, often predating invasive cancer by years.
Both breast and prostate tissues are dependent on the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, respectively. One mode of treatment for both breast cancer and prostate cancer is the suppression of these hormones with medication, for example, Tamoxifen for breast cancer and Lupron for prostate cancer.
Median Age Of Cancer Diagnosis
The median age of breast cancer diagnosis in women is the early 60s and there are 232,000 new cases per year, 40,000 deaths, and about 3 million breast cancer survivors in the USA. The median age of prostate cancer diagnosis in men is the mid-60s and there are 221,000 new cases per year, 27,500 deaths, and about 2.5 million prostate cancer survivors in the USA.
Breast and prostate cancers might be detected when an abnormal lump is found during a breast exam or a digital rectal exam of the prostate, respectively.
Both types of cancer are usually detected during a screening examination before symptoms have developed. Breast cancer is often picked up via mammography, whereas prostate cancer is identified via an elevated or accelerated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.
Imaging tests used in the diagnosis and evaluation of breast and prostate cancer are similar, with ultrasonography and MRI being very useful. Treatment modalities for both share much in common with important roles for surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.
Family history is relevant with both cancer types since there can be a genetic predisposition. Having a first-degree relative with the disease will typically increase one’s risk. In a further twist to the relationship between breast and prostate cancer, a recent study showed that women who have close male relatives with prostate cancer are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.1 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
1. Myth: Only old people get breast or prostate cancer.
Twenty-five percent of the women with breast cancer develop it before they turn 50, whereas less than 5% of the men with prostate cancer develop it before turning 50. However, many men in their 50s are also diagnosed with the disease.
2. Myth: Men can’t get breast cancer and women can’t get prostate cancer.
Each year, 1700 men are diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 men die of the disease. Women have structures called the Skene’s glands, which are the female homolog of the male prostate gland. These glands are thought to contribute to “female ejaculation” at the time of sexual climax. On very rare occasions, this female “prostate” can develop cancer.
3. Myth: All lumps found in the breasts or the prostate are cancer growths.
Eighty percent of breast lumps are due to benign conditions, as are 50–80% of prostate “nodules.” If an abnormality is found, further evaluation is necessary.
4. Myth: It’s not worth getting screened for breast and prostate cancer due to USPSTF recommendations.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years, against clinicians teaching women how to perform breast self-examination, and against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer. In our opinion, the USPSTF has done a great deal of harm to public health in the USA with these recommendations.
The goal of screening is to pick up cancer growth in the earliest stages when treatment is likely to be most effective. Not all cancers need to be treated, and the treatment can differ quite a bit based on the specifics. But screening the populations at risk is a no-brainer. For breast cancer and prostate cancer, the most common cancer forms, it is important to screen aggressively to obtain the necessary information. This will enable doctors and patients to make sensible decisions, which are individualized and nuanced, depending on a number of factors.
|↑1||Beebe‐Dimmer, Jennifer L., Cecilia Yee, Michele L. Cote, Nancie Petrucelli, Nynikka Palmer, Cathryn Bock, Dorothy Lane, Ilir Agalliu, Marcia L. Stefanick, and Michael S. Simon. “Familial clustering of breast and prostate cancer and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in the Women’s Health Initiative Study.” Cancer 121, no. 8 (2015): 1265-1272.|