International Study Launched into Breast Cancer in Men

Male breast cancer is a relatively rare disease that accounts for less than 1% of breast cancers diagnosed every year in the UK, equating to 400 new cases annually.  A new international initiative led by Queen’s University Belfast and Sapienza University of Rome, supported by the US National Cancer Institute, aims to uncover genes that lead to breast cancer in men.

The consortium, known as MERGE, will discover and characterise new genetic risk factors for male breast cancer by analysing DNA from 5,000 men. The DNA will be compared to that of 10,000 men without breast cancer, making it the largest study of its kind worldwide.    

Lead researcher, Dr Nick Orr from the Patrick G Johnson Centre for Cancer Research, said:

“We need to develop a better understanding of breast cancer in men in order to improve prevention, early detection and treatment. Having access to the large resource provided by the MERGE consortium will enable us to develop a deeper insight into the genetics and pathology of this rare disease.” 

By building a large international research resource for male breast cancer genetics, the MERGE team will develop a better understanding of the causes of breast cancer in men that may lead to new treatments for the disease. 

Dr Kyle Thompson, from Queen’s who is also working on the project, added:

“Over the three year project, we aim to fully analyse DNA from 5000 men with breast cancer. By comparing the genomes of men with breast cancer to those of healthy men, we hope to identify new genetic variants that cause the disease. This knowledge could help to identify men at risk of developing breast cancer.”  

The study will enable real progress in the treatment of this rare type of cancer

Professor Laura Ottini, from Sapienza University of Rome and co-lead researcher, said:

“From our experience in male breast cancer research, we know how collaborative multidisciplinary efforts lead to increased understanding in the medical and scientific communities as well as the dissemination of information and awareness to the public. In this context, MERGE will provide a great opportunity for filling the knowledge gap concerning male breast cancer genetics and address unmet clinical need toward gender-specific risk prediction assessment.” 

Symptoms of breast cancer in men

The symptoms of breast cancer in men include:

  • a lump in the breast – this is usually hard, painless and does not move around within the breast
  • the nipple turning inwards
  • fluid oozing from the nipple (nipple discharge), which may be streaked with blood
  • a sore or rash around the nipple that does not go away
  • the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
  • small bumps in the armpit (swollen glands)

Read more about the symptoms of breast cancer in men.

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