Family history and prostate cancer has hit the headlines again this week. But is it new news that there's a link between breast and prostate cancer? And where you can go for more information if you think this affects you? Sophie Lutter explains.

11 Mar 2015

Research published earlier this week in the journal Cancer and reported in the Daily Mail and The Times, highlighted once again the links between breast cancer and prostate cancer, reporting that having a father or brother with prostate cancer increases a woman’s risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

For any fans of Kylie Minogue this might ring a bell. It’s well known that Kylie had breast cancer – perhaps less well known that her dad also had prostate cancer. In fact, the whole story might sound familiar because we’ve known that there are genetic links between prostate cancer and breast cancer for some time, so this news isn’t surprising. However, we don’t yet know all the genetic factors linking the two diseases.

We do know that inheriting a mutation in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2, which work by repairing damage to the DNA, increases a man’s risk of prostate cancer, as do mutations in other DNA damage repair genes. Women can also inherit these mutations, which increase their risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

But BRCA mutations only occur in a minority of cancer cases. Approximately 5 per cent of people with breast cancer have a BRCA gene mutation, which can be inherited from either a person’s mother or their father. Around 1-2 per cent of prostate cancer cases in men under the age of 65 are associated with a BRCA mutation.

This newly published research comes from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. Scientists followed 78,171 women who enrolled in their study between 1993 and 1998. By 2009, 3,506 of them had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Women whose fathers or brothers had prostate cancer had a 14 per cent greater risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, while women with a family history of both breast and prostate cancer had a 78 per cent increased risk.

The researchers didn’t look at any underlying genetic changes that might be responsible for this increased risk but, as we discussed earlier, we do already know about some of the links between breast and prostate cancer that can increase risk of being diagnosed with either disease.

If this story has raised any concerns for you, you might find it interesting to watch Professors Johann de Bono and Tapio Visakorpi discussing some of these issues here. Or you can call our specialist nurses to talk about this on 0800 074 8383. There are other ways to get in touch with our nurses too.

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