By Patty Kim
Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles, has breast cancer.
The 67-year-old music mogul shared the news today in an interview with Michael Strahan for “Good Morning America.”
“From a man’s perspective, I’m thinking, ‘Why me?’ ” Knowles told Strahan. Fortunately for Knowles, his stage 1A diagnosis means his breast cancer was detected in the early stages and usually can be effectively treated. He had surgery and genetic testing, which revealed a BRCA2 mutation.
Although female breast cancer is common, affecting 1 in 8 women, male breast cancer affects about 1 in 833 men. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men.
“Everyone understands female breast cancer. It’s why we’ve come so far. It’s the beginning of October, and pink ribbons are everywhere in your face. Women are getting mammograms, and everyone is hypervigilant,” says Dr. John Kiluk, a surgical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “But on the other side, most people don’t even realize that guys can get breast cancer.”
Kiluk usually sees at least one new male breast cancer patient a month. One of the most important risk factors is a family history, which is where many of his conversations with patients begin.
“It’s very common for male breast cancer patients to start crying because their mom had breast cancer and it brings back bad memories,” Kiluk says. “Anyone who presents with a strong family history warrants genetic testing to figure out the tie and explain what’s going on.”
About 1 in 4 people carry a BRCA gene. Knowles has BRCA2, which means he is at higher risk of developing prostate, pancreatic, melanoma and breast cancers. But he sees this knowledge as power. “The rest of my life, I have to be very much aware and conscious and do all of the early detection.”
Knowles said the first call he made was to his family, knowing his kids have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Kiluk underscores the many benefits of genetic testing:
- If a gene is identified, patients can be given an estimate of their probability of developing cancer in their lifetime.
- Results can better guide treatment and surveillance to prevent future issues.
- The BRCA1 gene has a strong tie to breast and ovarian cancers, which allows for more proactive screening for those types.
- The BRCA2 gene is the most common in male breast cancer patients.
But the most important thing is for men to know their bodies and be their own health advocates.
“There is no recommendation for men to get mammograms for screenings, but everyone has to be aware that I’m a guy and I can get breast cancer. I need to check my body,” Kiluk says. “The more we talk about this, the more people will have this in the back of their minds that this could happen. So much to cancer is early detection, and awareness is the No. 1 piece to the puzzle.”
Male Breast Cancer Risk Factors
- Age: For both men and women, risk increases as age increases. The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is 68.
- High estrogen levels: Estrogen stimulates breast cell growth — both normal and abnormal. Men can have higher estrogen levels due to:
- Taking hormonal medicines
- Being overweight, which increases the production of estrogen
- Having been exposed to estrogens in the environment (such as from cattle or pesticides)
- Drinking alcohol heavily, which can limit the liver’s ability to regulate blood estrogen levels
- Having liver disease, which usually leads to lower levels of androgens (male hormones) and higher levels of estrogen (female hormones)
- Klinefelter syndrome: Men with this syndrome have lower levels of androgens (male hormones) and higher levels of estrogen (female hormones).
- Strong family history: Family history can increase the risk of breast cancer in men, particularly if other men in the family have had breast cancer. The risk is also higher if there is a breast cancer gene abnormality in the family. Men who inherit abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have an increased risk.
- Radiation exposure: If a man has been treated with radiation to the chest, he has an increased risk of developing breast cancer.