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Health experts stress how genetic testing for cancer can be vital to men's health

Posted at 6:30 AM, Oct 30, 2018

During breast cancer awareness month, you don't hear as much about male breast cancer as you do about women.

Genetic testing can expose a man's increased risk, but local health experts say many men often don't take advantage of that testing.

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Nurse practitioner Conni Murphy is the director of the Cancer Genetics and High Risk program at Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.

She hopes to change that trend, and educate more men about genetic testing.

She says, "men don't think that they can get breast cancer, and we don't seem to have the understanding that men can carry a gene mutation that can put their sons or daughters at risk for cancer. A man can pass on a gene mutation that increases his children’s risk, whether they are male or female. So, you can get a breast cancer gene from dad. And that's something that's not commonly thought about."

Her job is to identify families at risk for inheriting gene mutations that increase cancer risk.

Take her boyfriend, Jim Mulford, for example. "I feel great. It’s almost a joke. I feel as good, I feel like I’m 35, I probably look like I’m 75," he says.

Jim beat three different types of cancer in the past 11 years. It has changed his outlook on life. He says, "I wanna be around for a long time. But as far as my lifestyle, things don’t bother me that used to bother me."

Just months ago, the 62-year-old decided to go through genetic testing. It revealed he has a BRCA 2 gene mutation, which increases his risk of breast cancer from less than .1 percent to 9 percent. It increases the risk of other cancers as well.

Murphy said, "it was very unexpected for us to find a BRCA 2 gene mutation in Jim because his family does not have breast, ovarian, pancreatic cancers. His father did have melanoma and passed away at 71 from metastatic melanoma but that is the only cancer identified in his family that is related to BRCA 2. So it was really shocking. We did a panel of 30 genes, Jim chose to do it because he knows what I do for a living, he’s had three cancers himself, he was curious to know his genetic background." 

"He’s very unique," Murphy says. "The cancers that he’s had really aren’t associated with the risk that we see with the BRCA 2 gene, so this was just a total unexpected finding. It was good to find it however because now we can help keep his family safe."

She adds, "with the BRCA genes, it's male breast cancer, female breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma and prostate cancer that we tend to see running in the families."

Having this knowledge now helps Jim and his family prepare for the future. His kids are going to get tested to see if he passed the gene on to them.

Mulford said, "It's just a whole family thing to make sure we do as many things as we can to prevent future occurrences in any of us."

Murphy said it is important for families to understand their history and risk. 

"Know what cancers are occurring in the family, understand whether or not you may be at risk for a gene mutation, have appropriate genetic testing and have appropriate interpretation of that genetic testing." 

She adds, "anyone who has previously been tested for BRCA 1 and 2 because they met criteria and tested negative, should come back for updated testing. We’re finding more gene mutations. Everyone should be updating their genetic status."

Also, it's easy to do. The test can be conducted from a simple saliva or blood sample.