Health Beat

Health Beat: Male or female: Cancer genes can't tell

PHILADELPHIA - David Livingston had both bladder and prostate cancer.

"Turns out that cancer came along and you just don't let it get you down, you don't let it beat you," Livingston said.

His dad, uncle and brother all died from lymphatic and prostate cancer, leading him to DNA testing out of concern for his own two sons. What Livingston didn't know is that women in his family could also be at risk. Researchers said inherited cancers cross genders.

"For example, BRCA2, the second breast cancer gene, can lead to increased risk of prostate cancer in men, and if a woman inherits a mutation in those genes, an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer for women," explained Dr. Veda N. Giri, the director of cancer risk assessment and clinical cancer genetics at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

This insight into the underlying genetic cause of prostate cancer may ultimately shape the treatment, management and screening of patients.

"We expect that it's actually going to inform even earlier stage disease for prostate cancer, as well," Giri said.

When it comes to cancer detection, researchers said the earlier the better.

"So, for example, if a man is in a family that has a BRCA2 mutation, and he has inherited that mutation, whether it's from his father or his mother, he would be recommended to start prostate cancer screening at a younger age," Giri said.

Livingston said it's potentially life-saving information that makes the testing process all worthwhile.

"That's nothing compared to what the suffering that so many people have with the different types of cancers that are out there," Livingston said.

Men at average risk of prostate cancer should have a discussion with their doctors about screening starting at age 50. Men at higher-than-average risk, like those with family history, should have the discussion starting at age 40 or 45.

Giri said Livingston did not carry the BRCA gene, but did show variants in genes, which are earlier indicators that mutations might be underway.

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Allentown, PA 18102




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