The Prostate Cancer-Breast Cancer Link

Research has shown that there may be a link between prostate cancer and breast cancer. A family history of breast cancer is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Certain genetic mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer may result in an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. And there are also similar biological processes that can contribute to the development of both of these types of cancers.

However, breast cancer and prostate cancer are among the most common types of cancers, and they are not always associated with a family history or with recognized genetic mutations. Furthermore, there are treatments for these types of cancer, and they are more effective when they are initiated at an early stage. So it is important that you have your recommended health screenings even if you don't have any known risk factors.

Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer

Men who have a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of breast cancer may be at a higher risk of getting prostate cancer. While the exact reasons for this link are not completely clear, both types of cancer are associated with inflammation and with similar processes of carcinogenesis (cancer cell development).

BRCA Genes

Mutations in two genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are linked with a higher risk of breast cancer in women and men, and with a higher risk of ovarian cancer in women. These gene mutations are often inherited and run in families, but they can also develop de novo (without an inherited pattern).

Men who have these genetic mutations are at an increased risk of prostate cancer, and possibly also testicular cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

Mutations of both genes have been shown to be associated with a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, and evidence suggests that mutations in BRCA2 are more strongly correlated with prostate cancer risk.

Prostate Cancer Testing

While it has been shown that men with certain BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations do have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, having these mutations does not mean that a man will definitely develop prostate cancer. Additionally, most men who develop prostate cancer do not have BRCA mutations.

Because there is not a strong correlation between BRCA mutations and the development of prostate cancer, there is some debate about whether genetic testing for BRCA mutations in men is useful.

For men who have a strong family history of prostate cancer or breast cancer, genetic testing may provide some information about whether they share the same high-risk genetic mutations as family members who have developed either of these types of cancer. More frequent screening for prostate cancer could be then be obtained if the mutation is found.

For most men, however, genetic testing to search for the BRCA mutations is not likely to be of much use. If the mutation was found, it may lead a man to undergo earlier or more frequent testing, but the absence of the mutation should not convince a man that he is no longer at risk of prostate cancer (even early-onset prostate cancer).

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  1. Pilarski R. The Role of Testing in Hereditary Pancreatic and Prostate Cancer Families. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2019;39:79-86. doi:10.1200/EDBK_238977

  2. Marwarha G, Raza S, Hammer K, Ghribi O. 27-hydroxycholesterol: A novel player in molecular carcinogenesis of breast and prostate cancer. Chem Phys Lipids. 2017;207(Pt B):108-126.doi:10.1016/j.chemphyslip.2017.05.012

  3. Page EC, Bancroft EK, Brook MN, et al. Interim Results from the IMPACT Study: Evidence for Prostate-specific Antigen Screening in BRCA2 Mutation Carriers. Eur Urol. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2019.08.019

  4. Oliva L, Lozano R, Llácer C, et al. Risk Prediction Tools Available for Germline BRCA1/2 Mutations Underperform in Prostate Cancer Patients. Eur Urol Oncol. 2019; doi:10.1016/j.euo.2019.06.019

Additional Reading

  • The Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Cancer risks in BRCA2 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1999; 91(15):1310–1316.
  • Thompson D, Easton DF, the Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Cancer incidence in BRCA1 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002; 94(18):1358–1365.