Dutch researchers have confirmed that men who inherit a faulty version of the BRCA2 gene - linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women - are at a higher risk of certain other cancers. The scientists, based at Leiden University Medical Centre, found that men with BRCA2 gene mutations have double the risk of prostate cancer, and an eight-fold higher risk of pancreatic cancer. The study, published in the Journal of Medical Genetics, also suggested that such men are more likely to develop throat and bone cancer.
Most cases of breast cancer are not inherited, but around 5-10 per cent are due to a gene mutation. Women who have a mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have a greatly increased lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Previous research has also linked faulty versions of these two genes with a higher risk of various other cancers in both men and women who inherit them. Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 make proteins responsible for repairing DNA damage.
In the latest study, the researchers looked at 139 families with a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer, who had 66 different BRCA2 gene mutations between them. The team studied the incidence of cancer in all the family members who had a 50 per cent chance of carrying a mutated BRCA2 gene - a total of 1811 people. Amongst this group, 441 had already been tested for a BRCA2 mutation. Fifty-two per cent of those known to have inherited a faulty gene had developed cancer, compared to just 13 per cent of those who had not.
The study revealed that people with a BRCA2 mutation have a higher risk of prostate, pancreatic, throat and bone cancers. However, the increased risk was only significantly higher for men, and in particular those aged over 65. Team leader Christi van Asperen said that men with a faulty BRCA2 gene should perhaps be included in high risk screening programmes for prostate cancer. Julie Sharp, of Cancer Research UK, said that men should not be alarmed by the findings, adding that 'it is important to remember that only around five per cent of cancers are caused by inherited faulty genes'.
Meanwhile, UK scientists have identified a gene involved in breast development, which will help shed light on breast cancer. Named 'Scaramanga' - after the James Bond villain with three nipples - the gene makes a protein that triggers breast and nipple growth. The researchers say their findings, reported in the journal Genes and Development, could lead to new treatments for the disease. 'Identifying the Scaramanga gene is a real advance in our understanding of the early steps in breast formation', said team leader Alan Ashworth, of the Institute of Cancer Research.