By Sara Bondell
Think a BRCA mutation only affects women? Think again.
A recent study led by The Institute of Cancer Research in London shows men carrying a BRCA2 gene mutation are twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and their tumors tend to be more aggressive than those without the gene. Researchers also found carriers were diagnosed at a younger age—at an average age of 61 compared with 64 in non-carriers.
“An individual who carries a mutation, or genetic change, within either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is said to have a condition known as Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC),” said Moffitt Cancer Center certified genetic counselor Carolyn Haskins. “Due to the name hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, many people think that this condition only impacts females. However, men also have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and are therefore at risk to carry a mutation in one of these genes and have HBOC.”
In men, mutations within the BRCA1 and BRCA2 can cause an increased risk of developing male breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma. The risk is higher with a BRCA2 mutation, compared to a BRCA1 mutation.
Since national guidelines have expanded to include males with prostate cancer, more men are being seen for genetic counseling and testing. Those guidelines also recommend any individual diagnosed with pancreatic cancer be seen for genetic counseling and screening.
“Identifying males who are at an increased risk of developing cancer helps with prevention by allowing for early screening,” said certified genetic counselor Christine Steele. “For example, a man who carries a BRCA2 mutation is recommended to begin annual clinical breast exams at age 35 and prostate cancer screenings at age 45.”
Treatment can also be potentially impacted by genetic testing outcomes, as particular cancers that are found to be caused by a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation may respond better to certain chemotherapies, which would improve clinical outcomes.
Current national guidelines recommend that any men diagnosed with the following consider undergoing genetic testing:
- Metastatic prostate cancer (cancer that has spread outside the initial organ site)
- Aggressive prostate cancer and a family history of ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, metastatic prostate cancer or early-onset breast cancer
- Particular high-risk populations, such as those with Ashkenazi-Jewish ancestry