People with a family history of male breast cancer believe they have a higher risk of developing the disease, but are less likely to seek genetic counseling, according to a study published in the journal The American Surgeon. (2010 Aug;76(8):879-882).

Led by Suzanne Schiffman, MD, a general surgery resident at the University of Louisville and lead author of the study, the research team used data from the 2005 National Health Interview Survey Cancer Supplement to obtain data from 2,429 individuals with a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer. After the data were separated into two groups – those with a first-degree male relative with breast cancer, and those with a first-degree female relative with breast cancer, researchers collected information about perceived risk of inheriting genetic disease, genetic counseling, and genetic testing.

Researchers found that more than 60% of those with a first-degree relative with male breast cancer perceived themselves as being at higher risk of developing the disease compared to 46% of those with a female first-degree relative did. In addition, only 38.4% of those with a relative with male breast cancer had heard of genetic testing compared to more than 50% of those with a female relative with breast cancer.

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“Our findings speak to a real communication issue in health care,” said Anees Chagpar, MD, director of the Multidisciplinary Breast Care Program at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “Patients need to be made aware of the risk posed by having one or more first-degree relatives who have had breast cancer, and physicians need to be meticulous in taking family histories and discussing risk with the patients they see.”