Western men who carry a BRCA2 genetic mutation have a six to nine per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, UK researchers have found. The team discovered that men with a faulty BRCA2 gene had a 7.1 per cent chance of developing the disease by 70 and an 8.4 per cent chance by the age of 80.
The study, published online in the Journal of Medical Genetics, was the largest and most comprehensive completed to date on BRCA2 and male breast cancer.
'This is a reasonably strong risk for men carrying a faulty BRCA2 gene when considering the average risk of breast cancer for men generally is 1-in-1,000', said lead author Gareth Evans, Professor of Medical Genetics at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester.
The findings challenge the common perception that breast cancer is an exclusively female health concern, Professor Evans told BioNews.
'Men from BRCA2-affected families should be made more breast-aware', he said, explaining that breast self-examination for early symptom detection dramatically improves chances of successful treatment.
The Manchester- and Birmingham-based team prospectively and retrospectively analysed data from 321 families with a defective BRCA2 gene.
Among 905 identified fathers and brothers - referred to as 'first degree relatives' - of known BRCA2 carriers, 16 developed breast cancer. Eight 'second degree relatives' developed breast cancer, two who were known to have a faulty BRCA2 gene.
Men in BRCA-affected families are currently offered genetic testing. But, alarmingly, only 20 per cent of men opt to be screened compared to 60 per cent of women.
Professor Evans said: 'This study suggests that important reasons exist for why men from BRCA2 families should learn whether they are a carrier'.
According to Cancer Research UK data, about 300 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, compared with more than 45,500 women.
'Most men who have a relative with breast cancer will not be at an increased risk of developing it', said Nell Barrie, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, although men with 'a very strong family history of breast cancer' should consult a physician.
Professor Evans acknowledges that male breast cancer is rare, but it is responsible for 'a significant proportion - an estimated eight-to-ten per cent' - of all male breast cancer, he told BioNews.
The study authors concluded that the risk is 'sufficient' in men from families affected by BRCA2 that they should be advised to stay vigilant for early breast cancer symptoms