Many people know that breast cancer can run in families. There are even specific mutations in two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, that are linked with a much higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
What’s less well known is that men also can have mutations in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which can increase their risk of several cancers, including prostate and even breast cancer.
Harmful mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are found most often in women and men of Jewish descent. In this group, about 1 in 40 people has a BRCA mutation, compared with 1 in 400 people in the general population, notes Joshua Stone, MS, CGC, Manager of Genetic Counseling at Einstein Healthcare Network.
Stone says it’s important for men to realize they may have an increased cancer risk if they are Jewish or have close family members who have been diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, prostate cancer before age 55 ), or pancreatic cancer, male breast cancer or ovarian cancer at any age.
In such circumstances, current guidelines recommend genetic counseling and testing, he says. For someone who has a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, earlier or more intense screening may be warranted.
Serge Ginzburg, MD, Interim Chair of the Department of Urology at Einstein Healthcare Network, says the women in a family are more likely to get regular health screenings and to know about multiple cases of breast cancer or a BRCA mutation in the family.
“It’s an opportunity for those women to engage their male relatives to further investigate their status and perhaps encourage screening for prostate cancer so it can be diagnosed at the earliest stage,” Dr. Ginzburg says.
Genetic testing is recommended for men with cancer that has spread beyond the prostate, Stone says. “Prostate cancers that arise because of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tend to be faster growing and more aggressive, so we want to see if they have one of these gene mutations.”
Dr. Ginzburg and Stone offer the following answers to some important questions about BRCA mutations and how they may affect men.
Dr. Ginzburg says it’s important for men not to skip prostate cancer screening because they are afraid of the potential side effects of treatment.
“We tailor our treatment to the disease, and many prostate cancers are not aggressive. So for men with a small amount of non-aggressive cancer, we simply monitor it without doing surgeries or any treatments.
“Later, if our tests show that it has become more aggressive, that’s when we’ll pursue active treatment.”
Learn more about prostate cancer treatment at Einstein.
Learn more about genetic testing at Einstein.