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For Men Carrying 'Breast Cancer Genes,' Preventative Mastectomies Are An Effective Prevention

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Men have breasts too -- that's the message of the Male Breast Cancer Coalition.

Not only can men get breast cancer, they can also carry the so-called breast cancer genes.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, that's led some men to have preventative mastectomies.

A mutation in the genes known as BRCA 1 & 2 put women at much greater risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Men also have breast tissue, and carry those genes. Add in a family history of male breast cancer and a mastectomy could be a life-saver for the 2,600 men who get breast cancer each year.

Don Krieff is a happy and active 53-year-old. The avid biker and successful neurosurgeon on Long Island is the picture of health, except for a scary family history that comes as a surprise to virtually everyone who hears it.

"My breast cancer history is very significant. I have a grandfather with breast cancer as well as an uncle with breast cancer. My grandfather died of complications of breast cancer," he said.

That family history led Dr. Kreiff to get tested for the two main breast cancer genes. It turned out he carries a mutation in BRCA-2.

"These are not sex linked genes so they can be carried by either sex. Mom's side or dad's side of the family. There's a misconception that it can only come from mom's side of the family, but that's not true, and sometimes it's much more silent when it comes through dad's side," Dr. Erma Busch-Devereaux said, "Men can absolutely carry it."

The combination of male family history and gene mutation led Don to make an unusual decision for a man -- to have both breasts removed as a preventative measure. It's what doctors call a bi-lateral, prophylactic mastectomy.

"When you see male breast cancer manifesting in the family, it's something to warrant consideration. The risk reduction that we see is over 95 percent, so it's a very, very effective way of preventing breast cancer," Dr. Busch-Devereaux said.

Dr. Busch-Devereaux said the operation itself is very similar to a mastectomy in a woman, although here's less tissue to deal with, and the options are similar -- skin or nipple sparing, and in some cases even reconstruction.

What makes breast cancer in men especially deadly is that most men are ashamed to even talk about it, much less go public. So why is Dr. Krieff doing it?

"I went public because I have an obligation for my patients and any future patients. I'm not overly attached to them, so off they come," he said.

The absolute risk for men with BRCA mutation is still much smaller than in women, but it also increases the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer.

Don had his surgery yesterday, he said he is at home and feeling a little beat up, but can't wait to get back on his bike.


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