A gene mutation linked to significantly higher risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancers in women may also affect men, a new study shows.

The gene mutation is called BRCA2. It and another gene mutation (called BRCA1) have been shown to strongly raise a woman's risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

Now Dutch researchers report that the BRCA2 gene mutation may also raise men's cancer risk. But they aren't advising BRCA2 genetic screening for men at this point.

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The higher risk was seen with cancers of the prostate and pancreas, and possibly also bone cancer and cancer of the throat (pharynx).

Nearly all of the notable increases in the risk of those cancers were seen only in men with the BRCA2 gene mutation. Risks tended to be higher for people younger than 65.

The findings appear in the Journal of Medical Genetics. The researchers included Christi van Asperen, MD, PhD. She works at the Center for Human and Clinical Genetics at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

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The study included 139 families. All of the families had a member with the BRCA2 gene mutation and either breast or ovarian cancer. Cancer risk for sites other than breast and ovaries were estimated and compared with cancer risk for the general population.

A total of 441 people had the BRCA2 gene. Their cancer rates were compared with those of the Dutch public.

Besides higher rates of prostate, pancreatic, bone, and pharynx cancer, the researchers also found a slightly higher rate of digestive system cancers and a lower rate of lung cancer.

In some cases, it wasn't totally clear if the bone cancers were caused by other cancers that had spread to the bone, the researchers note.

They call for larger studies, especially since 11 out of the 24 men with prostate cancer had already died when the study was done. It's not known if those deaths were due to prostate cancer.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: van Asperen, C. Journal of Medical Genetics, Sept. 2005; vol 42: pp 711-719. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.