When most people hear the term ‘breast cancer,’ they don’t think of men.
Breast cancer can affect both males and females, but since male breast cancer is rare, it is understudied. Scientists from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom have recently identified two proteins associated with a greater risk of death from male breast cancer.
The scientists studied tumor samples provided by the U.K. charity Breast Cancer Now from almost 700 men. The study is considered one of the largest male breast cancer studies to date.
“It’s so important that we continue to investigate how male and female breast cancers differ biologically, to ensure all patients receive the most appropriate treatment and are given the best chance of survival,” said Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, to Medical News Today.
While male breast cancer is still considered to be rare, it is being diagnosed more frequently. Treatments for breast cancer are based off of clinical studies in women, and assume that underlying biology is similar in males, the authors wrote.
The male breast cancer patient tumor samples were found to have two specific proteins in common: eIF4E and eIF5. The men whose tumors contained the two proteins were less likely to live than those with tumors that did not contain the proteins.
“These men were almost two and a half times more likely to die from their disease than those who had low levels of the proteins,” said lead study author Matt Humphries.
EIF proteins identified as gender-specific proteins were identified during the study, as eIF proteins were more common in male breast cancer patients. EIF proteins are also found in lung cancer patients, more so in women than in men who have lung cancer.
By studying the appearance of these proteins, the authors said they are new targets for treatment in male breast cancer patients. Breast cancer in men is about 100 times less common among men than among women, according to the American Cancer Society.
The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with male breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. Still, about 460 men will die from breast cancer in 2017. Genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in studies have found that men with mutations in those genes are more likely to develop other cancers, such as prostate cancer, stomach cancer, pancreas cancer and melanoma.
“These important findings could now enable researchers to identify whether certain male breast cancer patients might benefit from more extensive treatment,” Morgan said.
The study was published by the American Association for Cancer Research in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
“Finding out whether existing drugs could target the proteins identified in this study could open up the possibility of improving treatment for some aggressive male breast cancers,” Morgan said.