October 07, 2019
While it seems obvious that women are concerned about gynecologic cancers, i.e., those that involve women’s reproductive organs, men also have good reason for concern – though they may not know it.
Men whose families have a history of women’s cancers may be at higher risk for cancer themselves. And even if they don’t develop cancer, men still need to be vigilant about their family history for the sake of their children.
How women’s cancers can increase men’s risk
Many cancers carry a genetic risk that can be inherited from family members. We offer genetic testing to people with cancer and their family members who may be carrying gene mutations that could put them at risk.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 stand for “breast cancer susceptibility gene 1” and “breast cancer susceptibility gene 2.” The BRCA genes produce proteins that suppress the growth of tumors. A mutation in either of these genes may mean a greater chance for developing cancer.
Men need to be aware of their family history, particularly if a close female relative has been diagnosed with one of these types of cancer, including:
A man who carries one of these mutations (BRCA1 and/or BRCA2) is at increased risk for developing cancer himself. Although breast cancer is much less common in men than in women, men with a BRCA gene mutation are at higher risk for male breast cancer than men without these mutations. BRCA gene mutations also can increase a man’s risk for prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.
People with Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, have mutations in genes that repair damage or errors in their DNA. Lynch syndrome can increase a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer and uterine cancer, among many others.
If you have a relative who has been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, you may be at increased risk for a number of cancers, including:
- Bladder and kidney cancers
- Colorectal cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancers
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
Protecting your family from genetic risks for cancer
Having a particular gene doesn’t mean a man is definitely going to develop cancer. But it increases the risk for men and their families. Men who have inherited gene mutations can pass those mutations down to their children.
For instance, if a man’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she had a BRCA2 mutation, the son could be carrying that mutation as well, increasing his risk for male breast cancer or other cancer types.
And the son can pass this mutation on to his daughter, who could develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer one day. Or he could pass it on to his son, who then may be at higher risk for prostate cancer. And they can continue to pass that mutation on to their children.
I urge all of my patients to be proactive about their families’ cancer risk. Ask if there are cancers that run in your family. Find out through genetic testing if you could be at risk for carrying these mutations. If you find that you are at higher risk because of a mutation, ask your doctor how to reduce the risk of developing cancer.