The association of estrogens with benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatic cancer has been widely studied, but no conclusive evidence exists for a role of estrogens in prostatic disease. This paper reviews the literature and describes studies which have sought to show a correlation of estrogens and alterations in the prostates of humans and experimental animal models. Using the developmentally estrogenized mouse model, we propose an alternative role for estrogens as a predisposing factor for prostatic diseases: estrogen exposure during development may initiate cellular changes in the prostate which would require estrogens and/or androgens later in life for promotion to hyperplasia or neoplasia. Thus, the critical time for estrogen action would be during the development of the prostatic tissue. We further suggest that estrogen-sensitive cells may remain in the prostate and be more responsive to estrogens later in life or less responsive to the normal controlling mechanisms of prostatic growth. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.