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Breakthrough in Male Breast Cancer



Thursday 15 September 2011


The world’s largest study into the genes that cause breast cancer in men reveals similarities with the female disease but also identifies some differences that could potentially lead to tailored treatments. The results are published today in the journal PLoS Genetics.


In the research, a collaboration between Breakthrough Breast Cancer and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), the team studied 433 male breast cancer cases and looked at the 12 most common genes that contribute to risk of breast cancer in females. They showed that five of these genes significantly affect risk in men too, but that the extent of risk was different between the sexes.


Male breast cancer is rare, affecting around 300 men in the UK each year, compared with around 48,000 women diagnosed, and knowledge of the disease and what causes it is extremely limited. This study is one of the first steps towards understanding the causes of male breast cancer.

These results come from analysing data from the Male Breast Cancer Study, the world's largest study into the causes of male breast cancer, a partnership between Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the ICR.


Dr Nick Orr speaking about the breakthrough in male breast cancer

Study author Dr Nick Orr*, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR in London, said: "We need to understand if the biology of male breast cancer is essentially the same as breast cancer in women or something different. This study suggests there are many similarities, with subtle differences in the effects of genes which cause breast cancer.


“While we are at an early stage with this work, these results give rise to the possibility of tailored treatments for male breast cancer patients.”

The team also believe that the results could improve understanding of the genetic causes of female breast cancer as well. Some of the results will be taken into analyses of the Breakthrough Generations Study, which is following 100,000 UK women for 40 years to find the causes of female breast cancer.

Co-leader of the Male Breast Cancer Study, Professor Anthony Swerdlow from the ICR, said: “It is exciting that this study is already producing results because we know so little about male breast cancer. We hope that this work will provide us with a much better understanding of the disease and allow us to find ways to prevent it.

“A further benefit of this work is that it could provide insights that can be transferred across to finding new genetic factors for female breast cancer. We are at the start of this work and look forward to finding out much more about this disease.”




For more information, and interviews contact Richard Purnell in the Breakthrough Breast Cancer press office on 020 7025 0290 / out of hours: 07778 682 001 or email [email protected].


Notes to editors


* Nick Orr from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research is joint lead author with Rosie Cooke from the Division of Genetics and Epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research


Breakthrough Breast Cancer

  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer fighting on three fronts: research, campaigning and education.
  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds ground-breaking research, campaign for better services and treatments and raise awareness of breast cancer.  Through this work the charity believes passionately that breast cancer can be beaten and the fear of the disease removed for good. Find more information at


Breast Cancer

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – nearly 48,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed every year
  • One in eight women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime
  • The good news is that more women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better treatments and better screening


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic cancer drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years.

For more information visit

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