Genetic testing highlighted during Men’s Health Month
Nov. 22—MANKATO — A genetic mutation associated with breast cancer isn’t just a concern for women, but studies show men are less likely to test for it.
Mutations in the BRCA gene, present in approximately 1 in 500 women, increase the risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer before the age of 70.
The mutation is just as common in males, however. And although breast cancer is rare in men, the mutation is also linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Understanding genetic health risks could help men detect these cancers earlier, said Michael Potts, genetic counselor at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.
“We want people to be healthy, and knowing if you have one of these genetic changes can help you catch it earlier, catch it sooner,” he said.
Genetic testing uses blood or saliva samples to look for mutations in a person’s DNA. Genetic counselors can help people decide if they should have genetic testing.
“What we’re doing is guiding them through the process,” Potts said. “We look at the family history, make sure they are fully aware of what is going on in the test and what results might come out of it so they are not surprised.”
Once the test came back, counselors could analyze the results. Expectant mothers can learn more about genetic factors to be aware of during pregnancy. Men may decide to have themselves checked more often.
Beyond their own health, men likely have other motivations for being proactive, Potts said.
“Maybe the information doesn’t interest them, but it might interest their children or their siblings,” he said.
Fathers pass on the BRCA mutation to their children at the same rate as mothers. The chance of a daughter or son getting it from a parent who has it is 50-50.
Men who have a family history of pancreatic, prostate, breast, or ovarian cancer are good candidates for BRCA mutation testing and counseling.
Medical experts use November, Men’s Health Awareness Month, to highlight the importance of screenings, as genetic testing and counseling is much like other health screenings in that it’s used less on men. .
A 2017 study of Malaysian men, published in the British Medical Journal, found that “low risk perception” was one of the reasons men do not seek health checks as often. The findings match what a Harris poll conducted on behalf of Orlando Health found in June.
Around 33% of men surveyed did not think they needed annual health check-ups, while most men surveyed, 65%, also believed they were naturally healthier than others.
As a family doctor at Orlando Health later pointed out, it is statistically impossible for the majority of men to be healthier than the majority of men.
In the case of genetic tests, men may also not know that they are available. Early attention to genetic susceptibility testing in the 1990s focused on its application to breast cancer, a disease primarily affecting women.
Testing has since expanded to other genes, and counseling has expanded to other disease risks.
Potts recommended the Facing Hereditary Cancer Empowered website as a resource for people interested in genetic testing. Go to www.facingourrisk.org for more information.
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