Gene mutations can put you at higher risk for cancer. The mutations can come from your father and mother, but only 4 percent of those undergoing genetic cancer gene testing are male. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Oncology, this leaves a considerable disparity in the knowledge that could help you avoid cancer altogether or identify specific treatments.
Louise Morrell, M.D., a genetics specialist and medical director of Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, said, “Men do not often seek testing and many times do not understand the importance of the information.” She further stated, “The more accurate our information, the better our guidance on prevention. In addition, in genetics, unlike other areas, the benefit extends to family members and perhaps for generations to come.”
Today, up to 15 percent of all cancers have a genetic link. Knowing about those links may help you and other members of your family prevent or reduce the risk of cancer. A father with a BRCA 2 mutation that causes prostate cancer could pass that mutation to his son or his daughter, increasing the son’s chances of getting breast cancer or prostate cancer. The daughter’s chances of getting breast cancer are also increased.
Many mutations have been identified that boost the risk for breast and gynecologic cancers, some prostate cancers, colon cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, kidney cancer, and more.
Researchers have identified the links between genetic mutations and cancer for decades, but public knowledge has not kept up. General knowledge sky-rocketed when actress Angelina Jolie had her breasts removed in 2013 and then her ovaries in 2015. She carried the BRCA1 gene mutation linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Her decision to prophylactically remove her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes came because Ms. Jolie’s mother, grandmother, and aunt had died from cancer. She wanted to lower her cancer risk came after multiple tests and conversations with experts.
Arelis Mártir-Negrόn, M.D., medical geneticist and head of the Clinical Genetics Program at Miami Cancer Institute, said, “Whether you are a man or a woman, your family’s health history may be the key to your future.” She further stated, “Because as many men pass down mutations as women, you should be as aware of your father’s family’s cancer history as well as your mother’s.” The earlier we discover cancer, the better the chance of survival.
Thinking of genetics as a formula may help you better understand. Every person inherits two copies of each gene: one from their mother and one from their father. Variations in genes are expected, and they make us different from each other. A slight change in the formula may not make a difference, but the wrong chemicals or too much or too little of them may cause the procedure to change drastically. In addition, not all mutations carry the same risk.
“A BRCA mutation might lead to an 80 percent risk of breast cancer, but an ATM mutation might have a 20 percent lifetime risk,” Dr. Morrell says. “These are very different, which is why having this information is so valuable.”
“There are many things we take into account when we assess risk,” Dr. Mártir-Negrόn says. “We can suggest lifestyle modifications that could lower their chances of getting cancer. There are other times when we might also suggest medications or present the idea of preventive surgery.”
Someone already diagnosed with cancer may find that the answers from genetic testing can help drive specific treatments or surgery decisions.
Everyone should consider genetic testing, especially men if they have any of the following: Cancer, or have an early age of onset for cancer in their family, have a family member with multiple types of cancer, have a family tree with numerous cancers, especially on one side of the tree, or are a member of certain ancestry groups with higher rates of genetic mutations, including those of Eastern European Jewish descent.
Couples who have a family history of cancer and think about having children should also take advantage of genetic assessment. “If you want to be able to tell your children they are not at risk to have a particular mutation; then you need to test both parents,” Dr. Morrell says. “The offspring can only inherit a mutation that the parents have. Mutations do not skip generations. The parent also has to inherit it.”