When we hear about gene mutations like the BRCA gene, we think of breast cancer screening in women. But, researchers say men are also at risk for the carrying the gene, which is linked to other cancers, as well. Yet, few men are being tested.
Erick Dunlap was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 years ago, but remembers it like it was yesterday. He says he was shocked; “I couldn't believe it being a male.”
Eric had a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Even though he had a family history, Eric never thought to take the special genetic BRCA test before he was diagnosed. The test might have shown whether he’d inherited the risk. “My grandmother had breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer, but I never worried.”
It’s known that parents with the BRCA genetic mutation have a 50% chance of passing it to their daughter or son. Surgical oncologist Dr. Cleetus Arciero says it’s important to know your risks. “Being aware of your family history; being aware of your own history in terms of different types of cancers will help you to become more aware of what your risk is of having some sort of genetic mutation.”
It’s not just breast cancer. During a recent study, researchers discovered that men with certain mutations in the BRCA genes also “have a higher risk of developing malignant abnormalities of the prostate, pancreas, colon and melanoma.” Women and men are at risk, yet women take the BRCA test for breast cancer nearly three times more than men.
Dr. Arciero believes it’s still thought by some to be solely a female disease. He says, “It's a relatively rare event that a man is developing breast cancer or if that man has a lot of risk factors in his family.”
While only one percent of the overall male population will get breast cancer this year, the study’s lead researcher tells us, “if a male has a BRCA mutations, his risk of breast cancer increases a hundred-fold.”
But, even if a man does have the gene mutation, Dr. Arciero stresses it does not always lead to cancer, and next steps aren’t always clear-cut. According to Dr. Arciero, “So for them it typically boils down to more of a closer balance from the standpoint of physical exam seeing the physician on a regular basis.”
Eric finally got the BRCA test and the results were inconclusive. He says he’ll probably get tested again to make sure he’s not a carrier who may have passed the gene to his two sons. He says, “Knowing that it could be lifesaving is important.”
Doctors say overall, it’s important to know your family history – talk to your personal physician, and always pay attention to any changes in your body. Meantime, the F-D-A just approved a direct to consumer BRCA gene mutation test for women and men. However, it only picks up three of more than 1,000 BRCA mutations most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.