A new study has discovered a gene that can raise the risk of male breast cancer by 50 percent.

The research was conducted at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, where the researchers assessed the genetic risk to male breast cancer using the genome-wide association study (GWAS).

The GWAS studies examined the link between genes and human disease. In this kind of a study, the researchers look at the entire genome for variations in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs- pronounced "snips") that occur in people who have the particular disease. Researchers can then find what genes may have a role in a particular disease.

The present study involved approximately 800 men who were diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers looked at more than 447,000 genetic changes to find out which specific genetic change is linked to the cancer. They confirmed their finding by conducting a similar study on another set of 438 men who had breast cancer.

The researchers found that a gene, called RAD51B, was linked to breast cancer in men. Small variations in this gene can lead to a 50 percent increased risk in male breast cancer. Variations in this gene are also linked to breast cancer in women, according to a news release by the Institute of Cancer Research.

"This study represents a leap forward in our understanding of male breast cancer. It shows that while there are similarities with female breast cancer, the causes of the disease can work differently in men. This raises the possibility of different ways to treat the disease specifically for men," said Dr. Nick Orr, author of the study.

Breast cancer is rare in men. In the U.S., it is estimated that about 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and about 410 men will die due to this cancer.

"Male breast cancer is rare, which makes it difficult to study. Through drawing on many hundreds of patients from this country and abroad, we can now start to unravel its causes. We will be continuing this research to try to find more genes that raise the risk of male breast cancer, in order to understand better the causes of this disease in men, and in women," said Anthony Swerdlow, from The Institute of Cancer Research.

The study is published in the journal Nature Genetics.