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This may surprise you: Prostate cancer isn’t just about men anymore. A recent study led by Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team member Peter Nelson, MD (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) has shown that 12% of advanced prostate cancers may be caused by 16 different genes that can be passed down in families. That means women also need to be aware of their family history of prostate cancer because it could put them at greater risk of developing breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.

Breaks in DNA occur thousands of times in each cell cycle, and normal cells have about half a dozen ways to combat DNA damage. However, mutations in DNA damage repair (DDR) genes can lead to the accumulation of mutations that can promote tumor formation. Most notable of these are defects in BRCA1/2 genes, which are infamous for increasing a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

These PCF funded and practice-changing findings were reported in the most widely read medical journal in the world, The New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers recommended that all men with metastatic prostate cancer at diagnosis should undergo genetic screening for DDR gene mutations they inherited from their parents. In addition, families of men found to have these DDR mutations should seek genetic counseling for all the children of the prostate cancer patient. Be advised: the type of genetic testing required by patients and their relatives will vary on an individual basis and should be discussed with the doctor who made the diagnosis of prostate cancer.

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