Male Breast Cancer Discovery by Leeds Scientists Could Improve Treatment

07 March 2017

MEN with breast cancer could be treated more effectively following the identification of two key genes by scientists funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Researchers led by Professor Valerie Speirs at the University of Leeds have found that the two genes – eIF4E and eIF5, which create proteins of the same name – are present at higher levels in male patients who are less likely to survive the disease.

The discovery, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, means that a simple additional test for the two proteins could now be developed, and then assessed, to determine whether adjusting treatment in men with high levels could improve their outcomes. 

A drug that specifically blocks cancer cell growth and survival via an enzyme that controls these proteins is already used in clinical practice in advanced breast cancer in women, so the findings present the possibility that this drug could potentially benefit male breast cancer patients. However, as the researchers highlight, this would need to be tested in further research.

On average, 350 men will be diagnosed with male breast cancer every year in the UK and 80 men will die from the disease. 

Dr Matt Humphries, the paper’s first author, said: “Currently, men with breast cancer are treated in exactly the same way as women. While some studies have been carried out into the disease in men, the numbers of samples examined have often been quite small. 

“We screened breast tumours from hundreds of men to find out if their tumours expressed these proteins, and we found that a significant proportion of the men we tested had higher levels of 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.” 

The study – one of the largest ever conducted into male breast cancer – involved the analysis of more than 700 cases of the disease. Leading UK charity Breast Cancer Now helped fund the creation of the male breast cancer collection in addition to providing male breast cancer samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank. 

Dr Kathryn Scott, Interim Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “We’re proud to have funded such an important discovery in the biology of male breast cancer. Breast cancer is often thought of as a disease that only affects women. It’s crucial that men are aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer so they are diagnosed at the earliest possible stage, but also that they are able to receive treatment that is tailored to their specific disease.

“This research is also a fantastic example of how Yorkshire Cancer Research is committed to working in partnership with national charities to make real improvements to the way cancer is diagnosed and treated in Yorkshire. More national investment is desperately needed in our region and we welcome opportunities to work in collaboration with charities like Breast Cancer Now.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: “These important findings could now enable researchers to identify whether certain male breast cancer patients might benefit from more extensive treatment.

“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.”




  1. National General Practice Profiles
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Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email:

Notes to Editors

  • Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
  • We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
  • Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
  • Current statistics show that 575 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
  • We aim to:
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    • Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
    • Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient's journey.
    • Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.
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