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The Prostate Cancer Breast Cancer Link

What Do We Know About the Link Between Prostate Cancer and Breast Cancer?

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Updated March 26, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Recent research has shown that there may be a link between prostate cancer and breast cancer.

It turns out that certain genetic mutations that have long been known to result in an increased risk of breast cancer development may also result in an increased risk of prostate cancer in men.

What Is the Potential Link Between Prostate Cancer and Breast Cancer?

Mutations of two genes known as brca1 and brca2 have long been known to result in higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer in women. Scientists have also recently found that men with certain mutations of these two genes may have an increased risk of early-onset prostate cancer.

While certain mutations of both genes have shown to be associated with a higher risk of developing early-onset prostate cancer, evidence shows that mutations in brca2 are more strongly correlative with prostate cancer risk.

Mutations of the brca genes have also been implicated with elevated risk of developing pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, and male breast cancer.

The presence of brca1 and brca2 mutations has also been shown to run in families. Women and men with other close family members who have the mutation are also more likely to have it themselves.

While it has been shown that men with certain brca1 and brca2 mutations do have higher risk of developing early onset prostate cancer, it does not mean that they definitely will have an early onset of prostate cancer or that they will develop it at all.

Additionally, most men who develop prostate cancer (including early-onset prostate cancer) do not have brca mutations.

What This Means for Men

Because there is not a 100% correlation between brca mutations and the development of prostate cancer, there is some debate about whether genetic testing for brca mutations is useful.

For men who have a very strong family history of prostate cancer, genetic testing may provide some information about whether they share the same high-risk genetic mutations as family members who have developed prostate cancer. More frequent testing for prostate cancer could be then be obtained if the mutation was found.

For most men, however, genetic testing to search for the brca mutations is not likely to be of much use. If the mutation was found, it may lead a man to undergo earlier or more frequent testing, but the absence of the mutation should not convince a man that he is no longer at risk of prostate cancer (even early-onset prostate cancer).

Sources:

The Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Cancer risks in BRCA2 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1999; 91(15):1310–1316.

Thompson D, Easton DF, the Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Cancer incidence in BRCA1 mutation carriers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002; 94(18):1358–1365.

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