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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK
Breast cancer gene risk for men
Image of breast cancer
The gene increases the risk of many cancers in men
Researchers say they have begun to understand how a breast cancer gene poses a risk to men.

Experts have known for some time that two genes - called BRCA1 and 2, increase the risk of breast and other cancers in both men and women.

The Journal of Medical Genetics research suggests men with BRCA2 have double the risk of prostate cancer.

The gene also ups men's risk of cancer of the pancreas eight-fold, the team at Leiden University Medical Centre found.

Genetic risk

Past estimates of cancer risk have tended to be based on among families worst affected by the BRCA2 gene, with female members who have multiple breast or ovarian tumours.

To get a better idea of the risk to any man carrying BRCA2, the Dutch researchers studied 139 families with 66 different mutations of the gene between them.

It is important to remember that only around 5% of cancers are caused by inherited faulty genes
Dr Julie Sharp of Cancer Research UK

The families were all drawn from a national register of families with breast and ovarian cancers.

Dr Christi van Asperen and his team studied the incidence of cancers among family members with a 50% chance of being a carrier.

In total the team studied 1,811 people.

They then calculated the overall risk of developing these cancers in comparison with the expected rates in the general population.

Among the 441 people who were tested for BRAC2, just over two-thirds (69%) carried the mutation.

In total, there were 158 cases of cancer among the 303 carriers of the genetic mutation compared with just 18 cases among the 138 who did not carry the mutation.

Screening

Almost all of these increased risks were significant for men only, and tended to be stronger for people under the age of 65.

Specifically, carriers of the BRAC2 genetic mutation were almost seven times as likely to develop throat (pharyngeal) cancer and eight times as likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Male carriers were more than twice as likely to have prostate cancer.

As 11 of the 24 men with prostate cancer had died, the authors suggest that early radical treatment for the disease might be offered to men who carry the genetic mutation, rather than watchful waiting, which is common policy.

However, this treatment is aggressive, with significant side effects, and many men live with prostate tumours for years without any problems.

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, urged men not to be alarmed by the findings.

"This research confirms previous findings that men from families that carry a faulty BRCA2 gene are at greater risk of both prostate and pancreatic cancers.

"However, it is important to remember that only around 5% of cancers are caused by inherited faulty genes."


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