As we approach Father’s Day we would like to call attention to an often forgotten group: men who have a BRCA mutation or a family history of hereditary cancer. Although men don’t get ovarian cancer and their risk for breast cancer is very low, we are learning more and more about how hereditary cancer risk affects them.
FORCE responded to the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF) preliminary guidelines that recommended against prostate cancer screening for all men. Based on emerging research, we encouraged the panel to revise the text to state that the guidelines did not apply to men with BRCA mutations. The USPSTF incorporated our suggestion into its final guidelines. Accomplishments like these remind us how important FORCE’s advocacy work is. Men with BRCA mutations are important cancer stakeholders. Our goal is to assure that they have a voice advocating for their concerns when government cancer policies are developed.
In keeping with our 13 Things theme and in honor of high-risk men, here are 13 facts men need to know about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
- Men with BRCA mutations have increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, and like women with mutations, their risk for pancreatic cancer and melanoma is also elevated. Men with BRCA2 mutations have greater risk than men with BRCA1 mutations.
- Although men with BRCA mutations have a greater cancer risk than men in the general population, their risk for cancer is lower than most women with a mutation.
- Because preliminary research suggests that hereditary prostate cancer tends to be a more aggressive form of the disease, the USPSTF advises that screening guidelines developed for men in the general population should not be applied to men with mutations.
- BRCA mutations have been found in people of every ethnicity, but not with the same frequency. About 1 in every 300 to 500 people carry a BRCA mutation. About 1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a mutation.
- Breast screening recommendations for men with a mutation include regular breast self exams and twice yearly clinical exams by a medical professional beginning at age 35. A baseline mammogram is recommended at age 40 and annual mammograms thereafter are advised, depending on the baseline results.
- Men with mutations or hereditary cancer in the family should discuss with their doctor the benefits, limitations, and risks of prostate screening using PSA and digital-rectal exam beginning at age 40.
- The international IMPACT study is looking at the benefit of PSA screening in men with and without BRCA mutations. Full results from this research will be available in 2020.
- BRCA mutations can be passed down equally from either parent to sons or daughters.
- When both parents have a BRCA2 mutation, their children may inherit a rare and deadly disease known as Fanconi Anemia. This is more common in people of Jewish descent. Couples concerned about this possibility should consult with a genetics expert.
- Couples who are concerned about passing a mutation to their children may want to speak with a fertility expert about in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis that screens embryos for BRCA mutations.
- Early research on PARP inhibitors for treatment of prostate cancer has been promising. Currently, some open PARP inhibitor studies are enrolling men with advanced prostate cancer.
- Coverage for BRCA testing in men can vary depending on their insurance plan. A genetic counselor can help men determine if their insurance will cover testing.
- Men who are concerned that the cancer in their family may be hereditary should consult with a genetics expert before pursuing genetic testing. FORCE can provide information on locating genetics specialists. Genetics consultations are typically covered by insurance.
FORCE helped unite and organize the female hereditary cancer previvor and survivor populations to advocate for more resources; we need to do the same for the men in our community. If you have high-risk men in your life, please let them know about our programs and resources.