Breast cancer is a common disease and one that’s almost always talked about as a condition exclusive to women. The same goes for BRCA1/2 gene mutations, which were made famous a few years ago by actress Angelina Jolie.
This week, Matthew Knowles – father of singers Beyoncé and Solange Knowles – shone a different light on both breast cancer and BRCA, topics usually put under the umbrella of “women’s health”, when he revealed he was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and carries a mutation in his BRCA2 gene.
The 67-year-old told Good Morning America that he had gone to the doctor after he and his wife had noticed dots of blood on his shirt and bed sheets. After investigative tests, he was diagnosed with breast cancer, a condition that’s rarely found in men.
Further testing then confirmed he had a BRCA2 gene mutation.
Everyone has a pair of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Their job is to repair damage in cells and prevent them from becoming cancerous. A mutation in a BRCA1/2 gene increases a person’s risk of certain cancers - including breast and ovarian in women, and melanoma and prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer in men.
BRCA and male breast cancer
Men usually have a very low chance of developing breast cancer; around 300 men were diagnosed with the disease in the UK last year. However, it’s estimated that the average man’s breast cancer risk increases from around 1% to 3% if they have a mutation in a BRCA1 gene, and to 12% if they have a mutation in a BRCA2 gene.
Inheriting and passing on BRCA mutations
In an interview Mr Knowles said his first call after diagnosis was to his family and explained how his BRCA gene mutation could be passed down to his children.
Ovarian Cancer Action’s Head of Healthcare & Education, Katherine Hale said: ‘Mr Knowles’ actions here and his openness about the experience are very welcome as they highlight an important and often overlooked fact: that men can carry BRCA gene mutations.
'Men are just as likely to carry and inherit a mutation as women and, like women carriers, have a 50/50 chance of passing it on to any children they have.
'Knowing that you have a BRCA mutation means you can let your family members know they may have a mutation and a higher risk of cancer too. By alerting them, they can choose to get tested and, if necessary, take potentially life-saving steps to reduce their cancer risk.'