Health Beat: Breast cancer genes: A guy problem?

Breast Cancer Genes

ST. LOUIS - Actress Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she was having a preventive mastectomy after testing positive for a BRCA mutation. It was a story that caught the attention of women everywhere, but women aren't the only ones who are affected by these genes.

A year ago, Josh Newby quit his successful job at a dot-com company to care for his mom, Theresa.

"It's the greatest decision I ever made," Newby said.

Theresa had stage IV breast cancer and was in hospice until she passed away. When she was diagnosed, she tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation. She wanted Newby to get the blood test, too. His result was also positive.  

"I thought, 'Wow, I have this gene. I got to take my life a little more seriously," Newby said.

Genetic counselor Khateriaa Pyrtel said many don't realize men can pass the faulty gene to their daughters and women can pass it on to their sons.

"I do find that it's often like they're not even thinking about the men in the families. We get the same information from our mothers that we do from our fathers in terms of our genes," said Pyrtel, certified genetic counselor, Washington University School of Medicine.

Men and women with a BRCA mutation have a 50 percent chance of passing it on. Women with the mutation are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer, and at least 10 times more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

The risk is much lower for men. Only 2,240 cases of male breast cancers are diagnosed each year. Men with the mutation, however, are at a higher risk for other types of cancers, including prostate, stomach, pancreatic and melanoma.

The rule of thumb is that men should consider testing if they have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Newby was glad he did.

"I do hope to have children someday, and that's very powerful information to have," said Newby, who formed the Theresa Harpole Foundation for Metastatic Breast Cancer.

There's currently no standardized guidelines recommended for men, but men from families with a strong history of breast and ovarian cancer should consider getting tested.

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