Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Hereditary cancers are problem for males as well as for females, says head of genetic risk program

Breast cancer is not just a female problem. It strikes 2,500 men in the United States every year and kills about 500 of them.

Dr. Robert Sidlow
Those statistics come from Dr. Robert Sidlow, director of the Male BRCA Genetic Risk Program at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in a recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency story by Larry Luxner.

Ashkenazi Jews, those of Eastern European descent, are particularly susceptible to the perils caused by a BRCA mutation that elevates the risk to men "not only of breast cancer, but also of melanoma and prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer," the article says.

Hundreds "of other mutations in the BRCA gene are just as dangerous, but they're not specific to Ashkenazim," Sidlow is quoted as saying.

The story notes that about "1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews… carries the harmful mutation, compared to about 1 in 400 in the general population."

Roughly 1-2% of men "with the BRCA1 mutation and 6-7% of men with the BRCA2 mutation will develop cancer by age 80," Sidlow contends.

Luxner's piece also quotes Elana Silver, CEO of Sharsheret (Hebrew for "chain"), to the effect that "it's crucial that men with a family history of cancer undergo genetic counseling screening — via a standard blood or saliva sample — for BRCA and other hereditary cancer mutations."

Adds Silver, "This is not only a women's issue. Family history is so important. When a man shares his family history with his doctor, he may not realize that he should mention that his mother had breast cancer or his sister had ovarian cancer, as these are not general 'men's diseases.' They are not aware that these cancers could mean that they themselves are at increased risk for cancer and that they can pass on these mutations to the next generation."

Sidlow notes that "most men are pretty happy to enroll income kind of surveillance program once they get over the initial shock" of being a mutation carrier.

Luxner's story indicates that there are various precautions they can take for themselves and their children where the BRCA gene is concerned — as well as such mutations as ATM, TP53, CHEK2, and PALB2. They can "monitor their own health more closely, they can encourage their children to test to see if they are carriers and, for any future children, to take steps to prevent the mutated genes from being passed down. For example, couples can conceive via in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and then test the embryo before implantation to ensure that only those unaffected by the genetic mutation are implanted."

Much more information on BRCA1 an BRCA2 can be found in Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer, a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, its author, aimed at male caregivers.

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