Sperling Prostate Center

Why Do Only Dogs and Humans (and Maybe Lions) Get Prostate Cancer?

If you ever adopted a male puppy, at the first vet visit you might have gotten this suggestion: “You should neuter your puppy to prevent prostate cancer.” There are, of course, two other common reasons why dog owners consider this surgery. The first is to avoid unwanted breeding (the owners of female dogs that are not spayed thank you!), and the second is to control behaviors like wandering or humping people’s legs. But prostate cancer prevention? Who would have thought?

Canis lupus familiaris (domesticated dogs) and homo sapiens (the humans who domesticate them) are the only two large mammal species known to develop prostate cancer (PCa). And yet, all male mammals from mice to elephants have a prostate gland as part of their sexual equipment. It serves the same purpose across all species: producing fluid to carry sperm out of the body. So why does prostate cancer strike only dogs and men? (Note: Lions are also believed to get prostate cancer—but who is brave enough to do a DRE on a lion?)

An important clue may lie in the diet of primates, a class of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and us) since they first appeared on earth. According to Don Coffey, a Johns Hopkins cancer expert who died in 2017, exclusive or high consumption of fruits and vegetables may have long played a role in PCa prevention:

The closest existing primate to humans is the bonobo (pigmy chimpanzee), which does not eat meat but exists primarily on a high fruit and fresh vegetable diet. Homo sapiens evolved only about 150,000 years ago, and only in the last 10% of that time (10 to 15 thousand years ago) did humans and dogs dramatically alter their diets. This is the time when humans domesticated the dog, bred animals, grew crops, and cooked, processed, and stored meats and vegetables.[i]

Thus, Coffey raises an interesting question about the proportion of meat in a person’s diet. Historically, Asian cultures in which people eat very little meat have had a significantly lower incidence of PCa. This is borne out in blog from Medivizor:

Men living in the US and Europe are 10 times more likely to get prostate cancer than people living in Asia. Figuring out why this happens and how to prevent the progression to full blown cancer occurs is a puzzle. Perhaps lifestyle factors, like being active and eating less meat and more vegetables and fruit are key.

At the Sperling Prostate Center, we support increasing the proportion of plant-based foods in your diet, and shifting from red meat to poultry and fish—but in smaller quantities. We have numerous blogs on the overall health advantages of doing so, not just for the prostate. Of course, there are other risk factors for prostate cancer besides the food you eat, but the evidence strongly suggests that if dogs are indeed man’s best friend, plants are his prostate’s.

What if you get prostate cancer?

PCa is far less common in dogs than in men. If Fido develops the disease there’s not much his human can do. Since dogs are not screened for PCa, early detection is exceedingly rare. As with humans, there few to no early symptoms, so dogs are diagnosed at later stages. Symptoms are hip or back pain (cancer has spread to the bones), weight loss, low energy, and problems with elimination, especially peeing. Sadly, advanced canine PCa does not respond to hormone treatments, and surgery, radiation and chemotherapy offer limited success.

If a human gets the disease, however, he has a great range of options. Multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) has revolutionized our ability to find PCa when it’s most treatable, develop a perfectly matched treatment plan for each individual, and if a minimal-to-noninvasive treatment is the preferred and appropriate option, mpMRI is used to plan, guide, monitor and confirm treatment success.

For more information about our detection, diagnosis and treatment services based in 3T mpMRI, please contact us.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Coffey DS. Similarities of prostate and breast cancer: Evolution, diet, and estrogens. Urology. 2001 Apr;57(4 Suppl 1):31-8.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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