Turning the Spotlight on Male Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer in Men
Most of the conversations and campaigns around Breast Cancer are aimed at women but men can also be affected.  Although rare, men can get Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society estimates that around 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2014.  Sadly, about 430 men will die from this disease.

Breast Cancer will affect about 1 in 8 US women (roughly 12% of the population) resulting in around 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 62,570 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) during 2014.  The chances for men being diagnosed with the same cancer is about 100 times less with a lifetime risk of 1 in 1,000.  Nevertheless, some men do get Breast Cancer and most men are unaware that they need to know what symptoms to look out for just as much women do.

Breast Cancer awareness campaigns, fundraising for supportive charities and research is predominantly aimed at women and men don’t seem themselves as having breasts.

Breast Tissue:

Your breast tissue developed before you born, whilst you were in the womb and developed small branching tubes (called ducts) behind the nipple.  Until reaching puberty, boys and girls breast tissue remains the same but once boys start producing testosterone and girls start producing high levels of oestrogen differences start to occur.

Oestrogen promotes growth in a girls breasts and the development of milk producing glands to form at the ends of the previously formed ducts.  In boys, it’s the high levels of testosterone that prevent the breasts from developing further.  The small number of ducts stay the same and the chest usually flattens out.  If breast cancer is diagnosed in a man, it usually starts in the ducts.  

Men Should Check for these Symptoms of Breast Cancer:

  • Swelling or lump (often painless) usually near the centre of the breast closest to the nipple.  This is because in men, most of the breast tissue is beneath the nipple.  However, lumps can also form away from the nipple.
  • Discharge from the nipple which, sometimes, can be blood-stained
  • An inverted and tender nipple
  • Ulceration or swelling of the chest area
  • Sometimes the lymph nodes in the armpit region can also be swollen

Men may often miss the above symptoms and not even consider that they may have signs of breast cancer.  This can mean that by the time a man visits his doctor, the cancer may have become more advanced.  It’s imperative that any changes in your health, whether you’re a man or a woman, you must seek professional medical advice as quickly as possible.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Men: 

Due to the lower numbers of breast cancer developing in men, not much is known as about the exact causes and risk factors.   However, indicators of a man's chance of developing breast cancer include:

  • Men under 60 don’t usually present with breast cancer, but younger men can still be affected
  • If you’ve received radiotherapy treatment in the past (ie for Hodgkin’s lymphoma). A side effect of radiation is that it can have long-term effects on healthy tissue.
  • If you are obese, you increase the change of developing breast cancer.  Obesity means that you will have higher levels of oestrogen which plays are role in the growth of breast cancer cells.  High oestrogen levels in men can also be attributed to chronic liver damage, in particular cirrhosis and some genetic conditions like Klinefelter’s syndrome, but this is very rare.
  • Family history of breast cancer may mean that you have an increased risk due to an inherited altered gene.  The most common altered genes associated with a risk of breast cancer are called BRCA1 (BReast CAncer1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer2).  The latter is most commonly associated with breast cancer in men. 

Treatment for Men with Breast Cancer

As you can imagine, with so much experience obtained in the treatment of women with breast cancer, men benefit from similar research and treatments. 

The types of treatment available for breast cancer are: 

– Local therapy treats a tumor site without affecting the rest of the body and including: Surgery & Radiation therapy

– Systemic therapies treat the whole body and include: Chemotherapy, Hormone Therapy, Targeted therapy

Your doctor will make a decision based on the type of cancer you have and inform you about treatment options.  It may be necessary for you to receive neoadjuvant therapy after surgery to help keep the cancer from returning.  As some cancer cells can break away from the main tumour site, and begin to spread, adjuvant therapy is design to kill these hidden cells.  Not every patient will require this type of treatment.

The level of breast cancer in men has remained steady over the last 30 years but it’s important to educate everyone about health screening.  Make sure you take advantage of all our Breast Cancer Education Tools and ensure that everyone gets the message: 

If you're worried about your health, make a doctor's appointment today…Don't Wait!

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