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[Note: Main image was taken before 2020.]
While it’s true that women can’t develop prostate cancer, they can still carry the gene. And learning whether you have the gene matters.
Dr. Caroline Peterson, OB-GYN and Director of Cancer Screening and Prevention for Kettering Health, says it matters for two reasons:
- Genes for prostate cancer can also indicate an increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer.
- Your son or grandson can inherit a prostate cancer gene and have an elevated risk.
“A woman can pass a gene for prostate cancer to a son and not realize it,” says Dr. Peterson. “You can carry a gene and pass a gene for a cancer that you may not get, but you can still pass it to children.”
Know your risk
Dr. Peterson’s team runs a risk assessment program for patients. Using a patient’s family history, physicians can calculate whether a patient should be offered genetic testing.
Doctors can test for many genes (36 total), including the 14 that can indicate the potential for prostate cancer.
But the 14 genes also indicate other hereditary cancers like breast, ovarian, colon, uterine, pancreatic, and melanoma.
For instance, BRCA1 and BRCA2 indicate different things in men and women.
“Men with BRCA 1 and 2 can be at risk for breast cancer, prostate, and pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Peterson. “Some of these prostate cancer genes cross over to breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. While women won’t be at risk for prostate cancer, they might be at risk for those other cancers.”
And in women, these genes indicate an elevated risk for breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.
In other words, women should be as proactive as men when it comes to knowing their risks for certain kinds of cancer.
Dr. Peterson says there’s another reason women should know if they carry genes for prostate cancer. Even if they have a gene for a cancer that will not affect their own health, it may affect a current or future family member.
Know your son’s risk
“Women may want to know if they can potentially pass a prostate cancer gene to a son,” says Dr. Peterson. “A daughter could pass a prostate gene on to a future grandson.”
A gene woman can carry called HOXB13 can indicate an increased potential for prostate cancer. Women can carry it and not know, passing it onto their male children. Knowing you have this gene means you can let your male family members know, including your father, who may have passed it on to you. And they can take the necessary steps to check themselves.
Genetic testing tells your doctor if you are at average risk or an increased risk for a hereditary-based cancer. And it can help you know your risk and protect yourself.
“It’s important to know our genetics because it helps guide healthcare providers in how patients should undergo surveillance,” says Dr. Peterson.
If you learn you carry the gene for prostate cancer, Dr. Peterson says it’s time to be vigilant.
“If a man carries the gene for prostate cancer, he should be assigned to a urologist who is on high alert and doing closer surveillance for them.”
The best way to be proactive about your and your family’s health is to undergo a risk assessment and learn from your doctor about the next steps.