A moment for men’s health

Since 2012, the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center has been advancing lifesaving therapies and raising awareness of the risks faced by individuals with BRCA gene mutations.

Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have up to a 75% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, and up to a 50% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.

A doctor and patient seated at a desk having a consultation.
Image: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

“While there has been a lot of knowledge and press coverage of the risks of BRCA1 and BRCA2, most has been focused on women,” says Kara Maxwell, assistant professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. “There is still a lot of misunderstanding and confusion in the general population regarding how men can be affected by a BRCA mutation. It’s critical that we develop new strategies to reach men for genetic counseling and testing and educate them about their risk.”

Fifty percent of the population carrying a BRCA mutation are men. While cancer risks in male BRCA mutation carriers are not as dramatically elevated as those of female BRCA mutation carriers, they still face an increased risk of breast and pancreatic cancer as well as elevated risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Men are significantly less likely to undergo genetic counseling and testing and are often unaware that they have a 50/50 chance of passing this mutation on to each of their children.

Thanks to an anonymous gift, the Basser Center has launched the Men & BRCA program to accelerate research and provide men with specialized BRCA-related care. Maxwell, the director of the Men & BRCA Program, describes it as “part of a three-pronged approach comprising education, clinical care, and research.”

“The Basser Center is uniquely positioned to accommodate such a program because of the amazing infrastructure that already exists in these three crucial areas,” she says.

Basser has helped to accelerate progress for BRCA-related cancer research, including contributing to the development of FDA-approved targeted therapies for BRCA-related cancers. Before the Center’s establishment, there were no targeted therapies for BRCA cancers. Now, four PARP inhibitors—agents which have been found effective in the treatment of heritable cancers—are available for all four BRCA-related cancer types, thanks in part to research and clinical trials taking place at the Basser Center.

Read more at Penn Inspiring Impact.