Men Can Get Breast Cancer, Too

The risk is low, but men should be aware.

It’s easy to dismiss breast cancer if you’re a man. After all, men don’t have breasts like women, so how could they get breast cancer? You may not know it, but both males and females are born with a small amount of breast tissue. At puberty, a female’s hormones stimulate the development of larger breasts while a male’s breasts remain the same. Surprisingly, this makes it possible for cancerous cells to grow in male breast tissue, just as they do in females. While male breast cancer does happen, it’s rare. In fact, breast cancer is 100 times less likely to affect a man than a woman, with only one out of a thousand men getting breast cancer.

When you think about male breast cancer you may wonder if certain men are more likely to develop breast cancer and what the symptoms are. Also, is breast cancer for men diagnosed and treated differently than for women? You’re about to find out.

What Are the Risk Factors?

As a man ages, his risk for breast cancer increases. Most men diagnosed with breast cancer are in their 60s. Between 5 and 10 percent of male breast cancers seem to have a genetic component. A man’s risk is higher if he has a close female family member who’s had breast cancer. Exposure to radiation on the chest also increases a man’s risk, as do hormone treatments, high estrogen levels, obesity, certain drugs, infections, or toxins. Medical conditions such as liver disease, Klinefelter syndrome, or testicular abnormalities also put a man at an increased risk for breast cancer.

What Should You Look For?

Just as a woman becomes alarmed at the discovery of a lump in her breast, men ought to be concerned as well. A lump anywhere in the chest area should be reason for concern for both sexes. Unfortunately, many men are in denial or ignorant of their risk for breast cancer and wait until additional symptoms appear before seeing a doctor. Other symptoms include thickening of breast tissue, bleeding or discharge from the nipple, or a change in the appearance of the nipple or the skin surrounding the breast (redness, dimpling, or scaling).

What’s the Difference?

If you’re wondering if diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for male cancer is any different than that for female breast cancer, the answer is “No.” Male breast cancer is detected using the same tests and procedures as used for women. A physical exam, patient history, clinical breast exam, mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, blood work, and biopsy are used to confirm diagnosis of breast cancer in both men and women.

Treatment for male and female breast cancer is also the same. Surgery is the first step to remove the tumor and any surrounding tissue affected by the cancer. Lymph nodes may or may not be removed depending on the extent the cancer has spread. Radiation is the next form of treatment and uses high-energy beams to target and kill any remaining cancer cells in the breast tissue. The type and severity of cancer will determine if chemotherapy is required and how it’s administered. Chemotherapy is medication taken either in pill form or intravenously to kill remaining cancer cells in your body.

One difference between male and female breast cancers is that three out of four male breast cancer tumors grow in response to hormones. This means hormone therapy using the medication tamoxifen may be an effective additional treatment for men.

Because it’s more difficult to detect a tumor in a man’s chest and men aren’t as quick to run to the doctor, breast cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, after the cancer has a chance to spread beyond the breast. That said, the sooner cancer is found and treated, the better the chance of survival.

Men, like women should perform regular breast self-exams. Anything abnormal should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.



Allan Alguire

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