Breast cancer in men is rare. About 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK compared to nearly 55000 women.
About five per cent of breast cancers diagnosed are because of altered breast cancer genes passed on by parents. Both women and men can inherit and pass on altered breast cancer genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Increased risk of breast cancer
Men with an altered BRCA gene have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer.
- BRCA1 around 1% lifetime risk which means 1 out of every 100 men with an altered BRCA1 gene will develop breast cancer cancer at some time in their lives.
- BRCA2 up to 10/% lifetime risk which means about 10 out of every 100 men with an altered BRCA2 will develop breast cancer at some time in their lives.
This increased risk is still less than women in the general population where one woman in eight will get breast cancer at some time in their lives. So men who have an altered BRCA gene are not offered breast screening.
Instead they’re encouraged to look out for any changes to their chest area including around the collar bone and under their arms and go to their GP (local doctor) straight away if they spot anything unusual. Because men as well as women have breast tissue this is called being breast aware.
Increased risk of other cancers
Men’s risk of getting prostate cancer is affected by having an altered BRCA gene. Up to 2% of prostate cancers diagnosed in men under the age of 65 are because of an altered BRCA gene.
With the altered BRCA1 gene: the risk is very slightly increased before the age of 65. After that it becomes the same as the general population which has a lifetime risk of 8% (8 in every 100 men).
Men with an altered BRCA2 gene have up to a 25% lifetime risk (25 men out of every 100 with an altered BRCA2 gene).
There is no general screening programme for prostate cancer in the UK at the moment. But there is an NHS Prostate Cancer Risk Management Programme.
There is also a large clinical trial running to see if general prostate screening would bring any benefits. It’s called the IMPACT study. Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 altered genes may be invited to take part.
There is evidence that some men with an altered BRCA gene may be at a slight increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer and melanoma. There isn't yet any effective screening for these cancers.
Your genetic team will be able to support you. Some have information booklets. For example the Oxford Regional Genetics Department booklet BRCA1 and BRCA2 for men.
You can contact our free telephone Helpline on 0808 800 6000 where nurses and trained staff with personal or professional experience of breast cancer answer the calls.
If you prefer to write down your query you can use our email Ask the Nurse service.
And you can visit our online Forum where you may find others with a similar experience to you.