Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen. Fewer than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.
Like women, men can have mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The function of the BRCA genes is to repair cell damage and keep breast, ovarian, and other cells growing normally. But when these genes contain abnormalities or mutations that are passed from generation to generation, the genes don't function normally and breast, ovarian, prostate, and other cancer risk increases.
Men who have an abnormal BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of breast cancer than men who don't -- about 8% by the time they're 80 years old. This is about 8 times greater than average.
Men with an abnormal BRCA1 gene have a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer. Men with an abnormal BRCA2 gene are 7 times more likely than men without the abnormal gene to develop prostate cancer. Other cancer risks, such as cancer of the skin or digestive tract, also may be slightly higher in men with abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
One of the largest studies of its kind has helped make the amount of increased risk more specific: It found that men with BRCA mutations developed 8 times as many cancers as would have been expected in the general population.
The research was presented at the American Urological Association Annual Meeting on March 15, 2017. Read the abstract of “PD07-10 Malignancies in Male BRCA Mutation Carriers -- Results from a Prospectively Screened Cohort of Patients Enrolled to a Dedicated Male BRCA Clinic.”
The study was done at the Rabin Medical Center in Israel, a center dedicated to men with BRCA mutations. The researchers screened 196 men who had a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation for prostate, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, and skin cancer. All the men were age 40 or older:
- 117 men had a BRCA1 mutation
- 79 men had a BRCA2 mutation
All the men in the study had a family history of cancer -- between one and 10 cases per family.
Overall, 34 men were diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the study or when they were screened for cancer during the study. Several men had more than one type of cancer.
Prostate cancer was the most common type of cancer diagnosed:
- 13 men developed prostate cancer
- 12 men developed skin cancer
- 2 men developed colon cancer
- 4 men developed pancreatic cancer
- 2 men developed breast cancer
For each type of cancer, the number of cases in the study was much larger than would be expected in an average population.
"The malignancy rates in a screened population of male BRCA mutation carriers were significantly higher than those in the general population," said David Margel, M.D., who presented the research. "All cancers were detected at an early stage and treated with curative intent. Our findings support the role of comprehensive screening for male BRCA [mutation] carriers."
If you are a man with a BRCA gene mutation, there are steps you can take to keep your risk of prostate, breast, and other cancers as low as it can be:
- Regular, comprehensive screening: Talk to your doctor about a screening plan that makes the most sense for your unique situation and family history.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Eat a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed food and limit sugar, trans fats, and processed foods.
- Exercise regularly at a moderate or vigorous level.
- Avoid or limit alcohol.
- Never smoking or quitting if you do smoke.
For more information on BRCA gene mutations, visit the Breastcancer.org Genetics pages. For more information on breast cancer in men, including symptoms and treatment, visit the Breastcancer.org Male Breast Cancer pages.