Can Women Get Prostate Cancer?

I know what you’re thinking. Women have so much going on in our bodies.

When it comes to our hormones and reproductive systems, it all seems so much more complicated than our male counterparts.

The one thing we thought we didn’t have to worry about was prostate cancer. But, as it turns out, we do have prostates after all.

Read on to find out what a female prostate is and whether prostate cancer is something worth worrying about.

Do women have a prostate gland?

So, do women have a prostate? Yes. Women do have what’s called a “female prostate.”

They used to be referred to as the “Skene glands,” but have taken on this new name because they produce the same hormones as the male prostate does.

They also have reproductive functions, just like the male prostate does. So it’s not crazy to think that women have a prostate!

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Can women develop prostate cancer?

It is possible to develop cancer in the female prostate.

The good news is that this is rare. In fact, cancer of the female prostate only makes up 0.003% of cancer that occurs in the female genitourinary tract.

Sometimes cancer can originate in the female prostate and then spread to surrounding structures, such as the urethra.

One earlier study estimates that cancer of the Skene’s glands accounts for 0.003 percent of cancers in the female genital-urinary tract. It’s also possible that cancer of nearby organs, like the urethra, can originate in the Skene’s glands.

In one case, painless long-term blood in the urine prompted a woman to seek medical attention.

Cancer in her prostate gland was treated with radiation, and her symptoms cleared. But since this type of cancer is so rare, it is challenging to study, and we don’t know much about it.

One possible risk factor is older age since we do notice that female prostate cancer is more common in postmenopausal women.

Evidence has also suggested that higher progesterone levels in the body may play a role in the development of cancerous lesions in this area.

Symptoms of prostate cancer in women

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • blood in the urine  

  • painful urination  

  • frequent urination  

  • difficulty passing urine  

  • painful sexual intercourse  

  • a feeling of pressure behind the pubic bone  

  • abnormal menstrual cycles  

  • sudden changes to the menstrual cycle

Infections

Female prostate cancer may be rare, but infections are more common. This type of infection leads to inflammation of the female prostate glands, which is called “female prostatitis.”

This leads to symptoms like:

  • frequent urination  

  • urinary urgency  

  • pressure behind the pubic bone  

  • painful urination  

  • difficulty passing urine

One way that these infections happen is by letting a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI for short) run wild. If an STI has gone untreated, it can spread to the female prostate.

Gonorrhea itself can actually lead to enlargement as well as tenderness of the female prostate, so that is a symptom to watch out for in a gonorrhea infection.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS for short) is a condition in which ovaries are enlarged with multiple fluid-filled cysts (polycystic ovary). But that’s not all.

Women with PCOS also have higher levels of testosterone, insulin, and progesterone as well as lower levels of estrogen.

Symptoms include light or missed periods, obesity, insulin resistance, and signs of androgen excess such as acne and growth of facial hair.

Usually, a woman with PCOS does not ovulate. This can lead to infertility. Scientists have noticed that women with PCOS do tend to have larger female prostates, as well as higher levels of PSA.

In PCOS, progesterone levels are higher than estrogen and peak before estrogen. This means that estrogen levels are lower and peak later than they should.

This is why ovulation doesn’t usually happen, though there are several different types of PCOS. In Atypical PCOS, ovulation can still occur. Menstrual bleeding can be heavy and prolonged in women with atypical PCOS.

Since PCOS leads to increased insulin levels, women with this condition are at higher risk of developing diabetes. They are also at higher risk of developing endometrial cancer.

So what causes PCOS in the first place? It’s still a bit of a mystery. Familial and genetic factors play a role, although the actual underlying defect is unknown.

There is evidence to support a link between chronic stress and PCOS and its multiple hormonal imbalances. A woman is usually diagnosed with PCOS after an ultrasound reveals enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts on them.

Blood work can also help to reveal a diagnosis of PCOS, particularly increased levels of testosterone, DHEA, and androstenedione.

To test for insulin resistance, your doctor can do blood work to measure your fasting glucose and insulin and then calculate the ratio between these two values.

If the result is less than 4.5, this is a significant sign that insulin resistance is present. This test is actually used as a screening tool for obese women with PCOS.

Cysts

Since the female prostate is glandular, it can develop cysts. Cysts are structures that are often filled with pus.

They can happen in any woman or even girls, as they can occur at any age. Treatment for cysts of the female prostate is relatively simple, as it usually involves draining fluid from the cyst and allowing the tissue to heal on its own.

Adenofibroma

An adenofibroma is a growth that occurs in the endometrium and the cervix of the uterus. It can happen outside the uterus as well.

I have two bits of good news for you: this type of growth is non-cancerous, and it is extremely rare anyways.

An adenofibroma leads to symptoms such as pain during sexual intercourse and heavy, painful periods.

This type of growth is usually found upon pelvic examination. It can cause pelvic enlargement up to two or even three times its normal size. Conventional treatment for adenofibroma is surgery to remove the growth.

What is the purpose of a woman’s prostate?

The jury’s still out on this one! Though researchers are unsure of the female prostate’s exact role in the body, they do suspect it may have something to do with helping to store infection, with it being a gland and all.

The female prostate also produces Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA for short), just like the male prostate does.

Interestingly, PSA levels show up in women who have certain types of breast cancer. Scientists are still trying to figure this one out when it comes to women’s health.

Sources

  1. Battaglia C, Nappi RE, Mancini F, Alvisi S, Del Forno S, Battaglia B, Venturoli S.. (2010). PCOS and urethrovaginal space: 3-D volumetric and vascular analysis.. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7 (8), p2755–2764.
  2. Baptiste CG, Battista MC, Trottier A, Baillargeon JP. Insulin and hyperandrogenism in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2009;122(1-3):42–52. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2009.12.010
  3. Dodson MK, Cliby WA, Keeney GL, Peterson MF, Podratz KC.. (1994). Skene’s gland adenocarcinoma with increased serum level of prostate-specific antigen.. Gynaecologic Oncology . 55 (2), p304–307.
  4. Gittes, R. F., & Nakamura, R. M. (1996). Female urethral syndrome: A female prostatitis? Western Journal of Medicine, 164, 435-438
  5. Nasiri Amiri F, Ramezani Tehrani F, Simbar M, Montazeri A, Mohammadpour Thamtan RA. The experience of women affected by polycystic ovary syndrome: a qualitative study from iran. Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2014;12(2):e13612. Published 2014 Apr 1. doi:10.5812/ijem.13612
  6. Santos, F, Rochel-Maia, S, Fochi, R, et al. (2011). MMP-2 and MMP-9 localization and activity in the female prostate during estrous cycle. General and Comparative Endocrinology. 173 (3), p419-427.

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