Scientists hope gene breakthrough could help men with breast cancer

Scientists have found a gene which can increase the risk of male breast cancer by 50 per cent, after the world's largest study into the disease.

Screening of the genetic codes of more than 800 male breast cancer patients, mainly from the UK, has revealed that mutations in one particular gene play a role in the disease, and could herald the development of new treatments specifically for men.

Very little is known about the causes of male breast cancer, which is diagnosed in 350 men in the UK every year, compared with 48,000 women. Previously researchers uncovered that faulty BRCA2 genes are involved in around 10 per cent of male breast cancer cases but they have now established that faulty RAD51B genes, which have also been found to increase the risk of breast cancer in women, also play a role in the disease in men.

Dr Nick Orr, a group leader at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and one of the study's authors, said: "This study represents a leap forward in our understanding of male breast cancer."

The research published today in Nature Genetics will help doctors predict whether men are more at risk of developing breast cancer. " For a general man in the population this latest news isn't that significant because the risk of breast cancer in males is already so low," Dr Orr said. "But for people who are already at high risk of breast cancer, for example men who have mutations in the BRCA2 gene, having this extra information could really help our ability to predict whether they are going to get the disease or not."

Scientists from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre were part of an international research team involved in the Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS), which investigated 447,000 alterations in the DNA of participants as part of a wider four-year-long study. Scientists now hope to build on the success of the GWAS' findings to identify further causes of both male and female breast cancer.

Case study

Andrew Tokely, 47, is a horticulturalist from Capel St Mary, Suffolk. He is now in remission after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I didn't even know men could get the disease. A lot of people didn't know what to say, so they didn't say anything. But most people were shocked because, like me, you just don't hear of men with breast cancer. One charity calls it 'the women's fight,' and very few mention that it can happen to men. There's stupid things too, like the medication we're put on afterwards, tamoxifen. Nothing on that leaflet or packet gives you a side-effect for a man.

But you get them.