“Can women develop prostate cancer?” someone asked. Another responded, “How can women get prostate cancer when they don’t even have a prostate?” A justified reaction, you would think, but have you ever heard of Skene’s glands—two glands located on the lower end of the urethra? If not, then these glands are also known as the female prostate and share the same properties as the male prostate gland. This includes secreting fluids that contain Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA), a protein produced by prostate cells. To know more, we spoke to Dr Arun Rathi, Consultant Urologist and Andrologist, CARE Hospitals, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.
Skene’s Gland: The Female Prostate
“Skene’s glands, also known as the paraurethral glands or the female prostate, are a pair of small glands located on either side of the urethra in women,” said Dr Rathi, adding, “These glands are homologous to the male prostate gland.”
According to StatsPearls Publishing, these glands are said to secrete a substance to lubricate the urethra opening, which is believed to prevent Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) due to its antimicrobial properties.
While the function of Skene’s gland is not exactly known, research suggests that it contributes to female ejaculation during sexual arousal.
Dr Rathi further shared that Skene’s glands can be a site for various conditions, including cysts, infections, and cancer. However, they are extremely rare, he said.
Understanding Female Prostate Cancer And How It Differs From Male Prostate Cancer
First things first, women cannot get prostate cancer as they do not have the prostate gland. However, women can get Skene’s gland cancer, otherwise known as female urethral adenocarcinoma. Unlike male prostate cancer, Skene’s gland cancer, while rare, can be aggressive and is associated with a relatively poor prognosis, according to a review published in the Journal of Clinical Genitourinary Cancer.
Cancer of the Skene’s gland or female urethral adenocarcinoma can be asymptomatic in the early stages. However, as the tumour grows, a person may feel or see a hardened lump with a round surface. Dr Rathi shares a few common symptoms to note:
- Pain or discomfort in the pelvic region
- Changes in urinary habits
- Discharge from the urethra
- Swelling or lumps in the genital area
- Pain during sexual activity
Diagnosis And Treatment
In general, diagnosis and treatment for conditions related to Skene’s glands would depend on the specific symptoms and suspected underlying cause. Diagnostic methods may include physical examinations, imaging studies, and, if necessary, biopsy, whereas treatment options include medications, drainage of cysts, or, in extreme cases, surgical intervention, Dr Rathi said.
In the case of female urethral adenocarcinoma, treatment depends on the cancer stage.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), while the best treatment for an early-stage cancer may be surgery or radiation, a more advanced-stage cancer may require equally advanced treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or immunotherapy.
When asked about the risk factors for potential conditions related to Skene’s glands, Dr Rathi responded, “It’s essential to note that reliable information may be limited due to the rarity of the condition. Factors that may contribute to the development of certain genital conditions in women can include infections, hormonal changes, and individual anatomy. However, specific risk factors for cancer of Skene’s glands, if they exist, may not be well-established.”
Female prostate cancer, otherwise accurately known as female urethral adenocarcinoma, is a rare but aggressive form of cancer. It occurs in Skene ducts and glands and leads to symptoms such as trouble urinating, frequent urination, incontinence, urethral discharge, and more. Regular screening and reporting of any unusual changes in the reproductive and urinary systems are crucial steps against this type of cancer. Speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn more about it.