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According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 2,030 men are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer annually in the United States, making it a fairly rare disease. Researchers continue to evaluate specific patterns and variables among men diagnosed with breast cancer and to conduct long-term follow-up with these patients to help identify men who may be at a higher risk of developing the disease as well as understand their related long-term health issues.

Inherited mutations in two genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2—have been found to greatly increase the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Alterations in these genes can be passed down through either the mother’s or the father’s side of the family. Research is ongoing to determine the level of risk presented by these genetic mutations.  

BRCA Gene Testing for Men

BRCA1 and BRCA2 were originally associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Later studies revealed they also raised the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancers, and in some cases, melanoma.

Who Is at Risk of Inheriting BRCA Mutations?

The BRCA mutations that are linked to cancer run in families. They are more common in people of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent but can occur in people of any ethnic background. BRCA mutations are passed on in an autosomal dominant manner, which means only one copy of the mutation is required to confer the risk. Both sons and daughters who have a parent with one of these mutations have a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation themselves.

Three BRCA1-linked cancers can affect males: prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and male breast cancer. (BRCA2 mutations also slightly increase the risk of melanoma.) There are several screening tests for males with BRCA mutations:

  • A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and physical exam for prostate cancer.
  • A mammogram and physical exam for breast cancer.
  • An MRI of his pancreas and the surrounding organs and ducts to look for signs of pancreatic cancer.
  • Although there isn’t a standard way to screen for pancreatic cancer high-risk pancreas cancer screening programs are beginning to use endoscopic ultrasounds.

Breast Cancer

Researchers from the UK assessed the lifetime risk of breast cancer among men with the BRCA2 mutation. Using a database that included all male first-degree relatives of BRCA2 carriers over the age of 20, the researchers identified 321 families with proven mutations and 905 male first-degree relatives of proven BRCA2 carriers. Performing a retrospective and prospective analysis of the data, the researchers ascertained that the risk of male BRCA2 carriers developing breast cancer by age 70 was 7.1% and by age 80 was 8.6%.

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The researchers concluded that this risk was sufficient to warrant increased awareness about breast cancer among men in BRCA2 families.

Increased Risk of Second Cancers

According to an article recently published in Breast Cancer Research, men who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a significantly increased risk of developing a second type of cancer.

Researchers from California conducted a clinical study to evaluate long-term outcomes among nearly 2,000 men who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The study was conducted over a 6-year period.

  • Patients had a 16% increased risk of developing a second type of cancer.
  • Patients’ risk for developing a second breast cancer was more than 50 times higher than normal.
  • The risk of melanoma was approximately three times greater than that of the general population, and the risk of stomach cancer was approximately two times greater than that of the general population.
  • Men younger than 60 years had a greater risk of developing a second cancer than men who were aged 60 years or older.

The researchers concluded that men diagnosed with breast cancer have an increased risk of developing a second cancer, particularly a second breast cancer. The authors state that men diagnosed with breast cancer should discuss monitoring and screening options with their physician regarding early detection of a second cancer.


  1. Evans DG, Susnerwala I, Dawson J, et al. Risk of breast cancer in male BRCA2 carriers*. Journal of Medical Genetics* [early online publication]. June 28, 2010.
  2. Tai YC, Domchek S, Parmigiani G, Chen S. Breast cancer risk among male BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. November 27, 2007 Satram-Hoang S, Ziogas A, Anton-Culver H.
  3. Risk of second primary cancer in men with breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research. Published January 25, 2007. DOI:10.1186/bcr1643