Many women are aware of the dangers posed by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Unfortunately, few men know that the same genetic defects can have deadly consequences for them as well as their children.
New research could prompt a major rethinking. BRCA mutations were already linked to prostate cancer and a growing body of studies suggests that they may play a larger role than early findings indicated. Men with these mutations are more likely than non-carriers to contract aggressive, lethal prostate cancer, to be diagnosed at a more advanced state and to ultimately die of the disease.
Last week a new analysis found that men with BRCA2 mutations had a higher rate of late-stage prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis and worse outcomes.
The latest studies suggest that a man’s BRCA status can be an important piece of information. This is particularly important at a time when doctors are taking a less aggressive stance in screening and treating prostate cancer.
The two genes produces proteins that help repair damaged DNA and alterations in either diminish the body’s defense against cancer. In addition to being linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancers, BRCA defects have been implicated in melanoma and pancreatic cancer. If a parent has the mutation, a child has a 50% chance of inheriting it.
However, having the mutation does not guarantee a diagnosis of cancer, the risk is simply much higher. They differ by individual cases, race and gender.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 12% of women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. That proportion rises to as high as 65% of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and about 45% for those with a BRCA2 defect. About 40% of women with a BRCA1 mutation and up to 17% with a BRCA2 defect will get ovarian cancer.
Conversely, men’s risk of getting breast cancer is generally one in 1,000 and raises to about 7% for BRCA2 mutation carriers. A BRCA1 mutation also appears to increase the risk, but it’s not clear by how much.
Men must embrace more genetic testing, they’ll inevitably face the kind of questions women have been dealing with for years.
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