These days, it is safe to assume that everyone and their grandma are aware of BRCA. This is so because practically all media outlets have talked/written about BRCA genes ever since Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie went public about the fact that she is a carrier of a mutated BRCA gene which causes breast and/or ovarian cancer.
What most of us may not be aware of is this: men can be carriers of the mutated BRCA gene too.
We were ignorant about this fact so imagine our surprise when we read that the geniuses (read: medical entrepreneurs) behind the controversial Color Genomics BRCA test are also marketing their product to members of the Hombre Club.
Our thought bubble went like, “What the heck? Why are they selling the test to men when we all know that they can’t be carriers of the mutated BRCA gene??”
Turns out that we were WRONG in the bolded, all caps kind of way. It turns out too that male carriers of faulty BRCA genes are 1) at higher risk of developing breast and prostate cancer and that 2) they can pass on their faulty genes to their descendants.
Anyhoo, this Q&A courtesy of the Royal Marsden Hospital (PDF file) tells us more about men with faulty BRCAs:
What are the cancer risks for men who have a faulty BRCA gene?
Men who have a BRCA gene mutation have a slight increase in breast and prostate cancer risk as adults, and this is seen mainly in men with a change in the BRCA2 gene. Men who have a BRCA1 gene mutation have a 0.1-1% risk of breast cancer and a prostate cancer risk which is similar to (or may be slightly more than) the population risk. A man with a BRCA2 gene mutation may have a 5-10% lifetime breast cancer risk and 20-25% lifetime risk of prostate cancer.
Can men be referred to genetics clinics for information about testing and cancer surveillance?
Yes, men can ask their GP or hospital consultant to refer them to their local genetic service to discuss their family history, the option of genetic testing and arrange appropriate cancer surveillance plans.
What are the risks to the children of men who have a faulty BRCA gene?
Men who carry a faulty BRCA gene have a 50-50 risk of passing the faulty gene to their children. The risk of inheriting the faulty gene is the same for both sons and daughters. However, daughters who inherit the faulty gene have a higher risk of developing cancer during their lifetime, compared with sons, because the risks are greater for women than men. Women need earlier and more frequent cancer surveillance.
What cancer surveillance can be offered to men who have a faulty BRCA gene?
Male carriers of BRCA mutations are advised to practise breast awareness and to inform their doctors of any changes in texture of breast tissue (due to the small risk of male breast cancer). They may also be offered the opportunity to take part in a research project which is looking at the efficacy of prostate screening using
PSA blood tests annually from the age of 40 to 69. There is a small risk of some other cancers for which screening is not usually considered to be useful. However, this is individualised depending on the family history. As in all cases, men (and women) are advised not to smoke. If there are any new symptoms they should discuss this with their doctor without delay.
Male BRCA Gene Test. So is there a test for the faulty BRCA gene in men? Yes, the Color Test mentioned in our earlier post is also good for men.