Men and Breast Cancer: Why We Need to Pay More Attention to Male BRCA Mutations

Anne Cohen’s article “When Men Get Breast Cancer: We Pay Too Little Attention to Male BRCA Mutations” sheds light onto a subject not often discussed. She tells the story of Harvey Singer, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and eighteen months later, prostate cancer (Cohen 1). Singer came from a family with a high risk for the BRCA gene mutation, “Like 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, he and his sister are carriers of a BRCA mutation, which puts them at a higher risk for certain hereditary cancers. (His sister Vicki and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer one month apart in 1995.)”

The problem as Cohen explains is that awareness for female hereditary cancers has been on the rise; however, “many people don’t realize that men have the same chance of inheriting the mutation as women, and that male breast cancer, although less common than the female kind, poses a real threat.” She continues, “According to the 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…A BRCA mutation also puts men at higher risk for prostate cancer (16%), pancreatic cancer (2-5%) and melanoma (3-5%).

Is there a solution for the lack of awareness about male breast cancer? Yes, Mary Ann Wasil, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, says the solution is “early information—for girls and boys. She explained that she remembered thinking about what her diagnosis would mean for her daughters and her doctor replied, ‘You do understand that your son is at much at risk as your daughters?'” (Cohen 1). Even though women are more likely to get breast and ovarian cancer than men, men can still be carriers of the mutation, which will in turn affect future generations. Breast and ovarian cancer are truly not only women issues, but family issues (Cohen 2).

Rabin Medical Center is home to the BRCA Multidisciplinary Clinic, which serves women and men at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer at Rabin Medical Center’s Davidoff Cancer Center—a world class facility whose sole focus is on the treatment and prevention of cancer. This clinic also spearheads important BRCA research and testing in men, especially for prostate cancer. To donate to the BRCA Multidisciplinary Clinic click here.

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