October is breast cancer awareness month, and while the primary focus is on women, the truth is that men can also get breast cancer.
How can men get breast cancer when they don’t have breasts?
Even though men don’t generally develop full breasts like women, there is a small amount of breast tissue present. In fact, boys and girls have a very similar breast tissue structure until puberty. Girls then produce the hormone necessary to form full breasts, while boys do not. Breast cancer in men affects the small amount of breast tissue present in the chest.
How common is male breast cancer?
Male breast cancer is relatively rare: Only 1% of all breast cancer cases affect men. An estimated 2,190 cases were diagnosed in 2012. Breast cancer causes about 400 male deaths annually (versus almost 40,000 female deaths). Men have a lifetime risk of being diagnosed of about 1 in 1,000.
What are the risk factors for male breast cancer?
While it is rare for men under 35 to be diagnosed with breast cancer, it does happen. Generally, risk increases with age. Other risk factors include:
- Family history of breast cancer in a close female relative
- History of radiation exposure to the chest
- Abnormal enlargement of the breasts in response to drug or hormone treatments
- Having Klinefelter’s Syndrome (a rare genetic condition)
- Severe liver disease
- Diseases of the testicles such as mumps orchites, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle
What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to symptoms in women. These may include:
- A lump in the breast
- Nipple pain
- An inverted nipple
- Clear or bloody discharge
- Sores on or around the nipple
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
How is breast cancer in men diagnosed?
The same diagnostic procedures used to diagnose female breast cancer are used for men, including X-rays, biopsies, and ultrasound. Men usually suspect a problem when they discover a lump or abnormality in their chest. However, the cancer often goes diagnosed in its early stages. Many men don’t seek treatment until advanced symptoms (like bleeding from the nipple and abnormalities in the skin) develop. Also, because men have much less breast tissue, it’s harder for them to notice lumps in that area. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 70, but can occur at any age.
How is breast cancer treated in men?
Breast cancer in men is treated much the same way as in women; surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and endocrine therapy. The biggest difference is that men seem to respond much better to hormone treatments than women. The cancer cells present in men have more estrogen receptors open, and so this type of therapy is more likely to be effective.
The good news is that cancers of all types can be largely prevented by a healthy lifestyle! You will be right on track for a health-filled life when you:
- Include plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet
- Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all)
- Quit smoking
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week
- Manage the way you respond to stress
The most important thing to know about male breast cancer: Don’t wait! If something seems abnormal, make a doctor’s appointment now.