It’s breast cancer awareness month, so we’re going to feature a topic you may not know much about. Male breast cancer is not so common, but it can happen and it’s important to be aware of it. In the UK for example, around 350 men get a breast cancer diagnosis each year. For women, this number is 55,000. Around 80 men die each year from breast cancer. It’s important to check any unusual changes by a doctor. Earlier detection means there is a much better chance of successful treatment.
Men don’t have breasts like women do. But they do have small amounts of breast tissue. Most of a man’s breast tissue is concentrated in the area around the nipple and areola.
Generally, men aren’t as aware of a potential issue in the breast area since lumps in a woman’s breast are far more common. Men also have a much smaller amount of breast tissue and it so it can be difficult to catch a lump early. For these reasons, breast cancer in men is generally diagnosed later.
Men: Do any of these sound familiar?
The symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to the symptoms that women experience. Symptoms include:
a lump near or behind your nipple or in the armpit
nipple sores or nipple discharge
a change in the appearance of your nipple or areola such as the nipple changing direction
It is important to check any unusual changes with your doctor, no matter how small you think they are. Early detection is crucial and could save your life. Unfortunately, most men don’t notice something is wrong until symptoms are more severe such as bleeding from the nipple.
Cancers can start in different parts of the breast. Most commonly, it starts in the milk ducts, which men have too, though they aren’t functional. While many breast cancers start with a lump, not all do. Additionally, most breast lumps are benign and not cancerous. Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths which do not spread. They are not life threatening and do not pose a risk. Any lump or abnormality should be checked by your health care practitioner.
Most breast cancers are carcinomas, and the most common type of breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, and invasive lobular carcinoma. There are other less common cancers such as sarcomas, phyllodes, Paget’s disease and angiosarcomas. These start in the cells of fat, muscle or connective tissue. Some forms of rare breast cancer don’t cause any lumps at all. A biopsy will determine which type of breast cancer it is and if it has spread to surrounding tissues.
The Risks of Breast Cancer in Men
As with a lot of things, your risk of developing breast cancer goes up in age. The average age for a man to be diagnosed is 72 years old.
You are also more at risk if you have a close family member (male or female) who suffered from breast cancer.
Men with a mutation in the BRCA2 gene are also at an increased risk. Radiation exposure and heavy drinking (alcohol) increases the risk of breast cancer in men.
Obesity is another risk factor present in both men and women.
Now what? Treatment for Breast Cancer in Men
Diagnosis and treatment are the same in men as it is in women. Physical exams, mammograms and biopsies are used to diagnose the condition. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and hormone therapy are used to treat both men and women. The only difference is that men generally respond better to hormone therapy than women do.
Both men and women should check their breast and armpit area regularly at home. If you find an unusual change or lump, get your doctor to check it out. You can lower your risk of developing breast cancer by maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing your alcohol consumption.