Men whose mothers, sisters or daughters test positive for a cancer-causing gene mutation also have an increased risk of developing the disease but are unaware of that risk. That is the conclusion of a study at Fox Chase Cancer Center exploring how families communicate genetic test results.
Like their female relatives, fathers, sons or brothers can also harbor a mutation in the BRCA 1 or 2 genes. Male carriers of these mutations, more commonly called the "breast cancer genes," face a 14 percent lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer as well as a 6 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer
"Despite these health implications, we have found a lack of understanding of genetic test results among men in these families," said Mary B. Daly, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for population science at Fox Chase and lead author of the new research presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium today.
Daly and her colleagues interviewed 24 men, each with a first-degree female relative who tested positive for having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. The women reported telling the results of their genetic test result to the male relative in the study, though only 18 of the men remember receiving the results.
Daly said what they learned demonstrates a level of cognitive and emotional distance that men experience from the genetic testing process.
Nearly half of the men (seven) who remembered receiving results did not believe that the test results increased their own risk of cancer. Only five (28 percent) could correctly identify their chance of being a mutation carrier.
"We devote a significant amount of time learning how best to communicate genetic test results to women, but this study shows we also need to help them communicate the information to their male family members who may be impacted by the test results," concluded Daly.
Fourteen of the 18 men who recalled receiving the results expressed some level of concern about the meaning of the test result, but most (11) directed their concern toward other family members, primarily daughters and sisters.
"Based on the responses, we were not surprised to learn that the level of interest in genetic testing was relatively low. Of the six men who did express interest, half said they'd do it for their children's sake."
Fox Chase Cancer Center was founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as the nation's first cancer hospital. In 1974, Fox Chase became one of the first institutions designated as a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center. Fox Chase conducts basic, clinical, population and translational research; programs of cancer prevention, detection and treatment; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at www.fccc.edu or call 1-888-FOX CHASE.