It’s in the Genes: the Link Between Prostate Cancer and Breast Cancer

Christopher Tucci, RN
Prostate cancer - In the genes

Did you know a family history of a certain type of breast cancer can increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer?  

Many aren’t aware of the link between those two cancers, although they do share a few similarities. Prostate and breast cancer are both the second most common cancers in men and women respectively.  Approximately 13 percent of women will develop breast cancer while about 12 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.  

It’s in the genes

The relationship between breast cancer and prostate cancer is all in the genes.  The human body contains about 20,000 different genes.  Each gene contains what is known as DNA– that is commonly thought of as the blueprint to the human body.  Sometimes genes can mutate, increasing the risk of certain cancers.  

Two gene mutations often in the spotlight for breast and ovarian cancers are called BRCA1 and BRCA2.  (BRCA1 is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer gene 1 and BRCA2 stands for BReast CAncer gene 2).  Because genes are inherited from both parents, men and women alike have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and will pass these on to their children.  It is important to note that it is not the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene itself that increases the risk of certain cancers – it is the mutation of a gene that does.

Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations experience more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, with a higher risk of cancer recurrence and a lower overall survival rate.  Men with BRCA1 gene mutation have a seven to 25 percent risk of prostate cancer, while men with BRCA2 mutation have between a 20 and 60 percent lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer.

Family medical history

Knowing your family history is essential!  Men should ask both parents if there is a family history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancers.  If either parent is aware of BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations or if there is a history of prostate cancer, men are at increased risk and should have a conversation with their health care provider.  If there is a family history of BRCA1 or BRCA2, a blood test can help identify any gene mutations.

Other risk factors

Besides BRCA1 and BRCA2, there are other risk factors for prostate cancer. Those include:

  • a family history of prostate cancer, specifically a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 60
  • black race
  • smoking
  • obesity or a sedentary lifestyle
  • high-fat diet
  • alcohol use

Get screened

It is important for men to have a conversation with their provider to discuss whether screening is appropriate for them.

  • Men at high risk for prostate cancer should start screening between the ages of 40 and 45 with a PSA blood test and rectal exam by their healthcare provider.  
  • For most men without risk factors, we recommend having a conversation with your provider and beginning screening at age 50 with a PSA test and rectal exam.  

For more information on prostate cancer, visit our website.

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