QUB-funded study discovers three new genetic changes linked to male breast cancer

  • A new study shows that there are three genetic changes that increase the risk of breast cancer in men.

    All three DNA variations known as SNPs are known to be linked to female breast cancer, but have been found to have a greater effect on the risk of breast cancer in men by around 47%, 45% and 61% respectively.

    The study was carried out by The Institute of Cancer Research in London and Queen’s University Belfast.

    It involved 1,380 men with breast cancer. Researchers analysed over 170 SNPs known to affect risk in women, finding significant overlap in the genetic risk factors for the disease in men.

    The results suggest male and female breast cancer may have a very similar genetic basis ― a discovery which could in future lead to new preventive treatments for men and women.

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    The study also found that men at the highest genetic risk were almost four times more likely to develop breast cancer than those at lowest risk.

    While breast cancer in men is very rare, around 370 men are diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK, and around 80 men lose their lives each year.

    There are multiple treatments for breast cancer in men depending on the features of the tumour, including surgery, hormone therapy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and targeted drugs – all of which were first developed to treat the disease in women.

    Lead author of the study, Dr Nick Orr said: “There has been much debate about whether breast cancers in women and men are distinct from one another. Our study has shown, for the first time, that the genetic factors influencing susceptibility to male breast cancer and the most common type of female breast cancer are much more alike than they are different.

    “Our findings suggest that the underlying biology that affects how breast cancer develops and grows are probably similar in men and women. This means that advances in prevention and treatment for the disease may be of benefit to all patients, irrespective of their gender.”

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    The study was funded by charity Breast Cancer Now and Queen’s University Belfast, and is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

    Breast Cancer Now described the discovery as a “major step forward in our understanding of male breast cancer”, calling for greater awareness of the disease in men and for research into the shared genetic causes.

    With male breast cancer being very rare, men can often feel isolated after a diagnosis if they don’t know other men in the same situation. Breast Cancer Now’s Someone Like Me matching service can put men in phone or email contact with another man who's been through something similar and who's trained to offer support.

    Source: Written from press release

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