Father’s Day is traditionally a time to honor and celebrate fatherhood. But it also can be time for men to act and recognize the importance of knowing their family cancer history.
While women are often aware of the importance of family cancer history and how genetics plays a part in cancer risk, men need to be more aware of this knowledge. Men are often surprised to learn that knowledge of maternal and paternal family history of cancer, even of typically female cancers like ovarian or breast cancer, can be important in making their own decisions about cancer screening and genetic testing.
Prostate cancer, for example, is the second leading cause of death from cancer for men in the US. But few men know that prostate cancer can be linked to other cancers in a family, impacting cancer risk for male and female family members. About 5-10 percent of cancers are caused by mutations that are passed down from generation to generation, including prostate cancer. With a growing knowledge of genes that may be involved in prostate cancer inheritance, an awareness of family history becomes even more important.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer at the relatively young age of 59, Jim sought genetic counseling where the importance of his family history was discussed. His mother and sister also both had breast cancer, which raised the suspicion that the cancers in the family may be due to an inherited gene mutation such as in the BRCA genes. Women who carry a BRCA mutation can pass the mutation to their sons, which could predispose the sons to a higher risk of prostate cancer, especially earlier in life. While some of the genes involved in higher risk of prostate cancer, like the BRCA2 gene, are known, research is ongoing to find and define other genes that are responsible for inherited prostate cancer.
Our research group is leading a study called Genetic Evaluation of Men (GEM), a study that is exploring the genetic contribution to prostate cancer and includes a clinical genetic test to eligible men. The study offers genetic testing for 25 cancer genes, several of which may contribute to inheriting prostate cancer. The study is unique in its focus on genetic testing for prostate cancer in a clinical setting, where participating men are informed about other cancers that may impact their families such as breast, ovarian, colon, or endometrial cancer. Patients learn about additional cancer risks for themselves, the chances of passing on mutations to their children, and how to screen for specific cancers.
Jim was one of the patients who enrolled and participated in the clinical genetic testing study. With his family history, he was concerned about potentially passing along mutations to his two sons and one daughter. Although his results came back negative for mutations, he says he and his family have gained an appreciation about the importance of knowing family cancer history to guide future cancer screening recommendations.
This Father’s Day, get to know your family’s cancer history – on the maternal and paternal side. It’s the first step to understanding cancer risks for you and your family.
Veda N. Giri, MD is the Director of Cancer Risk Assessment and Clinical Cancer Genetics at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University.
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