Breast Cancer Genes Affect Men, Too
Researchers Say Men Unaware That BRCA Mutations Raise Their Risk of Cancer
Dec. 14, 2007 (San Antonio) -- Men whose mothers, sisters, or daughters test
positive for the inherited gene mutation known as BRCA are at increased risk of
developing breast and prostate
cancer, but nearly half are unaware of that risk, a new study suggests.
Like women, men can harbor mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, says Mary
B. Daly, MD, PhD, senior vice president for population science at Fox Chase
Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
In women the inherited gene mutations account for just 5% to 10% of all
breast cancers diagnosed in the U.S. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are the most
common ones linked to hereditary breast cancer and ovarian
cancer, but the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is between three
times and seven times higher for carriers than noncarriers, according to the
National Cancer Institute.
A man who carries the BRCA2 mutation faces a 7% risk of developing breast
cancer in his lifetime, she says. In contrast, the chance that the average
American man will develop breast cancer is less than 1 in 1,000.
The BRCA1 mutation doubles a man's risk of developing prostate cancer,
giving him a 33% chance of developing the disease in his lifetime, she
Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 may also raise a man's risk of pancreas cancer and melanoma, Daly says.
Despite these risks, "men think it's all a female issue," she tells
WebMD. "They don't even understand they can inherit the gene and pass it on
to their offspring."
Men Unaware of Breast Cancer Risks
Daly and her colleagues interviewed 24 men, each with a first-degree female
relative who tested positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. All the women said
they told their relatives the results of their genetic test, but only 18 of the
men remembered receiving them.
Forty percent of the men who remembered receiving results did not know that
the test results increased their own risk of cancer, Daly says.
She reported the results here at the San Antonio Breast Cancer
Fourteen of 24 men expressed concern about the meaning of the test results,
but "most were worried not for themselves but for their daughter or other
relative," Daly says.
Given the other findings, she says she was not surprised that only six men
expressed interest in being tested. And half of these men said they'd do it for
their children's sake, she says.
If a man has several female relatives with breast cancer, it's a good idea
to be tested, Aman Buzdar, MD, deputy chairman of the department of breast
medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in
Houston, tells WebMD.
"If they don't get tested, their children will grow up not knowing that
information," Daly agrees.
She says that the genetic tests can cost between $400 and $3,000 and that
most insurers will pick up at least part of the tab.