Infertility could double men’s chances of developing breast cancer

·4-min read
Male breast cancer - diego_cervo
Male breast cancer - diego_cervo

Infertile men may be twice as likely to develop breast cancer than those without fertility issues, new research suggests.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease in the UK, with more than 55,000 people told they have the condition every year. However, while it overwhelmingly affects women, a few hundred men also get diagnosed every year.

Academics from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) studied almost 2,000 afflicted men and compared their lives and traits with a cohort of men who did not have the disease.

They found there was a link with fertility and the number of children, with men suffering from breast cancer twice as likely to be infertile.

The exact reason for this remains a mystery, but Prof Michael Jones, a senior staff scientist in Genetics and Epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, told The Telegraph that it may be due to oestrogen and the role of sex hormones in the body, with this likely to form the crux of future research.

Hormonal factors

“In men, the majority of breast cancers are what we call ER positive, oestrogen receptor positive,” he said.

“In females, about 75 per cent are positive and that means they can be treated with hormonal treatments like tamoxifen, and their survival is better.

“For men, nearly all are positive so that suggests there’s a hormonal factor underlying male breast cancer.

“There’s probably more work to be done on the biological side looking at how sex hormones interact together, and how they might drive breast cancer cells.”

He added that by looking at male fertility and breast cancer there may also be some insights to be gained about female fertility, which currently remains a big unknown due to difficulties in getting data.

“In the female world, the evidence for infertility itself is very difficult to tease out,” he told The Telegraph.

And while some aspects of male and female fertility are very different, they also share some of the same biological processes.

“We hope this could lead to insights into the underlying causes of male, and possibly even female, breast cancer,” Prof Jones added.

Dr Simon Vincent, the director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, which funded the study, said: “Discovering a link between infertility and male breast cancer is a step towards us understanding male breast cancer and how we could find more ways to diagnose and treat men - and possibly women - with this devastating disease.”

New tool could help detect breast cancer

The findings are published in Breast Cancer Research and come as the NHS is also considering adopting a new tool to help detect breast cancer.

Magtrace and Sentimag can help reduce the need for major surgery for some patients by helping surgeons spot cancerous tissue that needs to be removed.

The magnetic marker liquid and detection tool has been recommended in new draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) and would be used to see if the cancer has spread.

“People with breast cancer want to know if their cancer has been isolated or has spread to the rest of their body,” said Jeanette Kusel, the acting director for MedTech and digital at Nice.

“The earlier this is established, the better the potential outcomes will be. Using the Magtrace technology is another option for surgeons who work in hospitals with limited or no access to radiopharmacy departments.

“The benefits of using this technology include the potential for more procedures to take place, reducing the reliance on radioactive isotopes shipped into the country and for less travel for people having a biopsy.”

Commenting on the Nice update, Sajid Javid, the Healthy Secretary, said: “This promising research could provide a new tool for our scientists to track and slow the spread of breast cancer, the most common cancer in the UK.

“The NHS already screens more than two million women a year for breast cancer and offers a range of treatments, which have helped save thousands of lives and tackle the Covid backlogs.

“We are always on the lookout for innovative treatments to speed up diagnosis and improve survival rates and we will outline more in our 10-Year Cancer Plan, due this summer.”

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