June is a time to honor our fathers, grandfathers, and all the men in our lives. One way to show your appreciation? Make sure they know the facts about BRCA mutations, which are linked to certain cancers and occur with increased frequency in the Jewish community.

We all carry changes – or mutations – in our genes. While many of these mutations are harmless, others increase a person’s risk of cancer or other disease.  Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, male breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and melanoma. While not everyone with a BRCA mutation will develop cancer, their lifetime risk for cancer is significantly higher than someone without a gene mutation. About 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries a BRCA mutation, a rate more than 10 times higher than the general population.

Because breast and ovarian cancers occur more frequently than other cancers associated with BRCA, public health efforts have historically focused on educating women about these gene mutations. Now it’s time to address men and BRCA mutations.

Fact: Men can carry BRCA mutations

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and can carry changes in these genes. These mutations can be passed down from both mothers and fathers (to sons or daughters) at equal rates. If you or your partner carries a BRCA mutation, there is a 50% chance with each pregnancy that your child will inherit the mutation and associated risks.

Fact: Men with BRCA mutations have increased risks of developing certain cancers

Now you know that some men carry BRCA mutations and are at risk of passing them on to their children. But did you know carrying BRCA mutations comes with implications for your own health? Men with BRCA mutations have a 1-10% lifetime risk of developing male breast cancer and a 15-25% lifetime risk for prostate cancer, both of which are much higher than the risks in the general population.1 People with BRCA mutations may also face increased risk for pancreatic cancer and melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer.

Fact: Men (and women) with BRCA mutations can take risk-reducing measures

If you have a BRCA mutation or think your family might be at risk, meeting with a genetic counselor is a good first step. A genetic counselor will review your family history of cancer and help you decide whether or not genetic testing is right for you. They will also discuss professional recommendations for managing and reducing BRCA associated cancer risks, such as increased screening and surveillance.

For more information about BRCA mutations or genetic counseling, contact the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics at jewishgeneticsctr@juf.org or 312-357-4718.

Related posts and resources: 

1. http://www.facingourrisk.org/understanding-brca-and-hboc/publications/documents/Info%20for%20Men%20Flyer%207.16.14.pdf