Breast Cancer in Men: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments
By Jena Mays
While women are more prone to breast cancer than men, it’s not unheard of in men. In the US, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women between thirty-five and fifty-five. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 40,000 women die from breast cancer every year, compared to 460 men who die from the disease. While breast cancer is more prevalent in women, men are at risk, too. Roughly one in one hundred breast cancers diagnosed in the United States will be in a man. Male breasts have similar cells, breast ducts, and fatty tissue as women’s breasts. Like other cancers, breast cancer in men is preventable through screenings, breast self-exams, and early diagnosis.
What Is Breast Cancer in Men?
Breast cancer in men is a type of cancer that grows in the breast tissue. Men’s breasts are different from women’s, but they do have small amounts of breast tissue. Before puberty, girls and boys have similar amounts of breast tissue. The tissue consists of a few ducts under the areola and nipple. After puberty, hormones cause the breast ducts to grow and lobules to form in girls. Due to low levels of female hormones, men’s breast tissue doesn’t grow as much. But due to the presence of breast tissue, men can get the same types of breast cancer as women.
Often, a diagnosis of breast cancer in men occurs too late for treatment. Unlike women, men are less likely to be suspicious of anything strange in their breasts. Much of the focus during the national cancer prevention month is on breast cancer prevention in women. Men are not taught to do self–breast examinations and get regular cancer screenings, like women are. When they do finally go to the hospital, most of the time the cancer is too advanced.
Which Men Are Likely to Get Breast Cancer?
Anyone can get breast cancer, but it’s rare in men who are below thirty-five. Your chances go up as you age. Most breast cancers diagnosed in men are for those above fifty.
There are, however, other factors that increase your chances of getting breast cancer, such as:
- Genetic mutations: Certain genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase your breast cancer risk. A mutation of these genes is what increases your risk of prostate and pancreatic cancer as well.
- History of breast cancer in the family: If a close family member has had breast cancer, your chances of getting it increases. If you have a family history of breast cancer, regular breast screenings can help detect it early.
- Exposure to radiation therapy: Men who have a history of radiation exposure to the chest are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Enlarged breasts due to hormone treatments: Some hormone treatments and drugs can lead to enlarged breasts. This increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Estrogen exposure: Your breast cancer risk increases if you take estrogen-related drugs, like those used for prostate cancer treatment.
- Rare genetic conditions: Klinefelter syndrome is a rare genetic condition where a man has an extra X chromosome copy. This causes the body to produce more estrogen and less androgen.
- Liver diseases: Severe liver diseases like cirrhosis can lower androgen levels and raise estrogen levels. When that happens, you become more prone to breast cancer.
- Testicular diseases: Certain conditions of the testicles, like injuries, an undescended testicle, or mumps orchitis, increase your breast cancer risk.
- Obesity: Men tend to gain weight as they get older. When that weight leans towards obesity, you are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men
The symptoms of breast cancer in men are the same as those in women. Typically, your doctor will diagnose breast cancer when there is a lump in the breast. Very few men conduct self-breast examinations to feel for lumps. As such, cancer diagnosis comes when it’s too late.
Men usually go to the hospital when they experience symptoms like nipple bleeding. The problem with such a late diagnosis is that the cancer will already have advanced. To better prevent cancer, early diagnosis is vital.
Here are some signs of breast cancer in men to watch out for:
- Thickness, swelling, or a painless lump in the breast
- Changes in the skin over the breast such as redness, puckering, dimpling, and flaky or scaly skin
- Nipple changes like redness or scaling
- Discharge from the nipple
- Changes in the positioning of the nipple, such as a nipple that turns inward
- Pain or irritation in the nipple area
Having one or two of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily point to breast cancer. However, if you experience any of them, it’s safer to see a doctor immediately to rule out breast cancer.
Male Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Early Detection Saves Lives
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 685,000 breast cancer fatalities annually. Every year, though, the focus is more on female breast cancer and prevention. But breast cancer in men is as real as it is in women. Sure, male breast cancer is rare, but men are still diagnosed with it every year. Breast cancer screening and conducting self-examinations at home can lead to early detection. The treatment for male breast cancer depends on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. An oncologist might also recommend hormone therapy or targeted therapy.
This October, let’s talk about breast cancer in men as well as women and encourage each other to go for regular screenings and take measures at home to check for breast abnormalities. Early detection could make all the difference.
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