It is not only women who can develop breast cancer. Each year, more than 2,400 men in the United States are diagnosed with the disease. In a new study, researchers have uncovered two proteins associated with male breast cancer, a discovery that could lead to more effective treatments.

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Researchers have discovered two proteins linked to male breast cancer.

Lead study author Dr. Matt Humphries, of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is around 100 times less common in men than women, and the lifetime risk of a man developing the disease is around 1 in 1,000.

Because male breast cancer is relatively rare, it is difficult for researchers to gather enough participants to effectively study pathogenesis of the disease in men. This has hampered the development of male-specific breast cancer treatments, meaning that men with breast cancer are treated in the same way as women.

The new study from Dr. Humphries and team, however, could change the way that male breast cancer is treated, after revealing the discovery of two proteins that play a role in the disease.

The researchers assessed tumor samples from 697 men with breast cancer – provided by U.K. charity Breast Cancer Now – making it one of the largest studies of male breast cancer to date.

The researchers found that men whose tumor samples expressed two specific proteins – eIF4E and eIF5 – were less likely to survive breast cancer than men whose tumor samples did not express these proteins.

“These men were almost two and a half times more likely to die from their disease than those who had low levels of the proteins,” notes Dr. Humphries.

Dr. Humphries and colleagues say that these proteins could be targets for new drugs, bringing us closer to treatments specifically for male breast cancer.

“These important findings could now enable researchers to identify whether certain male breast cancer patients might benefit from more extensive treatment,” says Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now.

It’s so important that we continue to investigate how male and female breast cancers differ biologically, to ensure all patients receive the most appropriate treatment and are given the best chance of survival.

Finding out whether existing drugs could target the proteins identified in this study could open up the possibility of improving treatment for some aggressive male breast cancers.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan

Learn more about male breast cancer and the lack of awareness surrounding the condition.