What it Means for Men who Carry a BRCA Gene Fault
As a result of Angelina Jolie, in May 2013, revealing she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation and had decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy awareness of the BRCA gene mutations causing female hereditary cancers has increased. This doesn’t seem to be the case for men.
Many people don’t realise that men have the same chance of inheriting a gene mutation. The mutation can be passed down equally from a father or mother. If one parent is a carrier, each child — male or female — has a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation.
According to data provided by the Basser Research Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, men with a BRCA mutation have between 5 and 10% lifetime risk of breast cancer, compared to 0.1% lifetime risk for men in the general population. For women with a BRCA mutation, the risks run up to 80%, as they have more breast tissue. A BRCA mutation also puts men at higher risk for prostate cancer (16%), pancreatic cancer (2-5%) and melanoma (3-5%).
Because of the lack of knowledge about male breast cancer as well as the stigma against “a woman’s disease,” men are often diagnosed dangerously late. Experts also agree that men face bigger barriers to genetic testing and protective strategies than women – partly because of their own attitudes.
Men particularly those with a BRCA2 mutation face an increased risk of prostate cancer. Research has shown these cancers tend to have an aggressive nature with more rapid spread of the disease and poorer survival (Prostate Cancer With Faulty BRCA2 Gene Spreads More Quickly).
Like women, males with BRCA mutations have elevated risks of several cancers, and they can take steps to be vigilant.
Prostate cancer screening with a clinical exam and PSA test annually starting at age 40.
Regular breast self-exams, plus a physician breast exam every six to 12 months, annual mammograms if they have enough breast tissue to compress in the X-ray machine beginning at age 35.
Consider annual dermatology visits to check for skin cancer.
Experts also recommend that men from families with known mutations get tested around age 35, or earlier if they plan to start having children. Men need to consider that if they test positive for the BRCA gene fault that this has implications not only for their health but also for their children’s health, particularly if they have daughters.
Men need to look at their own attitudes to health care and visiting health professionals. Traditionally any men don’t seek medical advice.
Women, traditionally have assumed responsibility for family communication and health, have a role in making sure male relatives are included in sharing of family health information. Fathers, sons and brothers need to be part of these conversations.
Men very much matter when it comes to hereditary cancer.