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Breast cancer genes can affect men too

Many people may forget that women aren't the only ones that can be affected by a breast cancer gene mutation.
February 18, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she was having a preventive mastectomy after testing positive for a breast cancer gene, BRCA, mutation. It was a story that caught the attention of women everywhere. But many forget that women aren't the only ones affected by these genes.

A year ago, Josh Newby quit his successful job at a dotcom company to care for his mom, Theresa.

"It's the greatest decision I ever made," he said.

Theresa had stage IV breast cancer and was in hospice until she passed away. When she was diagnosed, she tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation. She wanted Josh to get the blood test, too. His result was also positive.

"I thought, 'Wow, I have this gene. I have to take my life a little more seriously probably,'" said Josh.

Genetic counselor Khateriaa Pyrtel at the Washington University School of Medicine says many don't realize men can pass the faulty gene to their daughters and women can pass it on to their sons.

"I do find that it's often like they're not even thinking about the men in the families. We get the same information from our mothers that we do from our fathers in terms of our genes," said Pyrtel.

Men and women with a BRCA mutation have a 50-percent chance of passing it on. Women with the mutation are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer, and at least 10 times more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

The risk is much lower for men. Only 2,240 cases of male breast cancers are diagnosed each year. But men with the mutation are at a higher risk for other types of cancers including prostate, stomach, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma.

Josh was glad he got the test.

"I do hope to have children someday, and that's very powerful information to have," he said.

There's currently no standardized guidelines recommended for men, but men from families with a strong history of breast and ovarian cancer should consider getting tested.


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