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Family history of women's cancers could pose risk to men too

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Jeff Gilbert, who had prostate cancer, inherited the cancer risk, through a mutation in what's known as the ATM gene, from women's cancers in his family. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Most women know, if breast or ovarian cancer runs in the family, the might need additional screening themselves. But what about men? They should also take note if women’s cancers run in the family.

After six months of intense fatigue and a misdiagnosis of congestive heart failure, Jeff Gilbert finally wound up in Dr. Heather Cheng's clinic at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

He has prostate cancer.

Dr. Cheng thought it might be genetic, after hearing his family history includes a grandfather with lung cancer, a grandmother with breast cancer, an aunt with lung cancer, and more.

"My grandma had pancreatic cancer,” Jeff said. “My mom had breast cancer, my sisters had breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It's just, you know, down the line."

It turned out, Jeff did inherit his cancer risk, through a mutation in what's known as the ATM gene.

It increases the likelihood of breast cancer in women, but it's just as important for the men in his family to know about it, too.

"For men, we're kind of catching up. If we do our job right, we'll be able to find sons and nephews. Jeff doesn't have sons but nephews for example who could be at risk," Dr. Cheng said.

Identifying the mutation can lead not only to early detection - but cancer prevention.

"Usually in oncology we are kind of trying to make the best of a bad situation, but we have this opportunity to really improve the screening and interventions of the next generation, and that I think is what gets me most excited," Dr. Cheng said.

Pinpointing the mutation also opened up more treatment options for Jeff.

"I didn't think I'd make it to today,” he said. “Most of the doctors I talked to predicted six months."

Two years later, Jeff is still here making memories with his daughters and granddaughter and making the family more aware of a cancer risk that could affect each of them.

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