Three things to know about BRCA mutations in men

Kara Maxwell, director of the Men & BRCA Program at the Basser Center, is bridging the knowledge gap about how BRCA mutations affect men.

The Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine is the first comprehensive center for the research, treatment, and prevention of BRCA-related cancers.

Many people associate BRCA with women and breast cancer. That’s understandable—after all, BRCA stands for “BReast CAncer gene”—but BRCA gene mutations are associated with multiple cancer types and aren’t limited to females. Men should also consider reaching out to the Basser Center for both learning about and being screened for BRCA-related cancers.

A man sits with a doctor holding an iPad.
Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine News

“We realize there is a knowledge gap about how BRCA affects men because most research and awareness efforts for BRCA have focused on women,” says Kara Maxwell, an assistant professor of medicine and genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine. Maxwell also serves as director of the Men & BRCA Program at the Basser Center. “The Men & BRCA Program was designed to help fill this education gap, meet the need for clinical care, and drive research to answer important questions about BRCA-related cancers in men.”

First, BRCA mutations put men at higher risk for cancer, too. Everyone has BRCA and BRCA2 genes, which are tumor suppressor genes that are important to fighting cancer. But, anyone can be born with a mutation in one of these genes that prevent them from working normally.

Second, Maxwell advises to consider the women in your family. It’s important to remember that men can inherit a BRCA mutation from their father or their mother, so when thinking about your family history of cancer, take note of any close female relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50 or who had ovarian cancer, as these diagnoses could be related to BRCA mutations.

Lastly, Maxwell says there are resources to help men with BRCA mutations manage their cancer risk. The Men & BRCA program at the Basser Center for BRCA was designed to advance research and provide education for men with BRCA mutations.

This story is by Meagan Raeke. Read more at Penn Medicine News.