Male breast cancer: risks and perceptions of family members

October 21, 2010 by  
Filed under CANCER

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In another tribute to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we tackle a type of breast cancer that is rare but equally dangerous – male breast cancer.

Men do get breast cancer, too. Male breast cancer may be rare but having a male relative diagnosed with breast cancer may present similaror even higher chances of developing the disease than having a female relative with breast cancer. Yet, perceptions and behavior of family member of cancer patients based on the gender of the diagnosed family member vary a lot. This is a according to a study by researchers at Multidisciplinary Breast Care Program at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

Typically, people with male relatives with breast cancer perceive their risk to be higher than those whose familial history of breast cancer is restricted to females. This is in most cases right. Yet, despite this perception, these people are less likely to take action to find out more about their genetic predisposition such as seek genetic counseling or undergo genetic testing.

The study results were based on data from “2,429 individuals with a first-degree relative – a parent, sibling or child – with breast cancer. The data were separated into two groups – those with a first-degree male relative with breast cancer, and those with a first-degree female relative with breast cancer. Data about perceived risk of inheriting genetic disease, genetic counseling and genetic testing were collected and compared between the two groups.”

The actual figures found by the study comparing the 2 groups (male relative vs. female relative) are as follows:

  • Perception of risk of developing breast cancer:  more than 60% vs. 46%
  • Awareness of genetic testing for breast cancer gene mutations: 38.4% vs. more than 50%
  • Discussion about genetic risk with health care provider: none vs. 13%

This discrepancy between risk perception and actual action may be due to many factors, such as:

  • Breast cancer in males is rather rare, accounting for only about 1% of all cases of breast cancer.
  • People are not well-informed about breast cancer genetic testing.
  • Doctors may fail to ask the right questions that would make patients reveal significant information.

The study authors wrote:

“Our findings speak to a real communication issue in health care. Patients need to be made aware of the risk posed by having one or more first-degree relatives who have had breast cancer, and physicians need to be meticulous in taking family histories and discussing risk with the patients they see.”
Patients need to be educated about their risks and what to look for, and on the flip side, doctors need to be sure they are taking complete family histories and referring patients for genetic evaluation if any red flags are raised.”

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