Male breast cancer is a rare disease. But everyone has breast tissue, and that includes men. They just have smaller amounts of it, that cannot produce milk.
A man's breast tissue is found directly behind the nipples. Male breast cancer happens when cells in this tissue become abnormal both in appearance and behavior. These cancer cells can grow uncontrollably and spread to more parts of the breast tissue.
Men experience less than 1 percent of all breast cancers that occur. A man’s lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer is about one in 1,000, according to BreastCancer.org.
While a man's risk for breast cancer is small, awareness is still important and could save a life. The Mayo Clinic listed signs and symptoms of male breast cancer that include:
- A lump or thickening in breast tissue, usually painless.
- The skin over the breast undergoes changes becoming bumpy, red or scaly.
- The nipple can become red or scaly, sometimes turning inward.
- Nipple discharge.
There are several risk factors associated with male breast cancer:
- Men who get breast cancer are typically between age 60 and 70.
- Radiation exposure to the chest before age 30.
- Men who have had inflamed testicles or had a testicle surgically removed.
High estrogen levels in men is another risk factor. This can be seen in obesity, Klinefelter syndrome, and cirrhosis of the liver.
Obese men have more fat cells. Fat cells convert androgens (male hormones) into estrogen.
“Men with Klinefelter syndrome have lower levels of androgens and higher levels of estrogen. Therefore, they have a higher risk of developing gynecomastia (breast tissue growth that is non-cancerous) and breast cancer,” BreastCancer.org reports.
Cirrhosis of the liver can also lower androgens and increase estrogen in men, thus increasing a man’s risk of breast cancer.
Sometimes medication can be a risk. Finasteride is a medication that treats baldness, and benign prostate enlargement, and prevents prostate cancer. Some say finasteride may increase the risk for breast cancer in men, according to MedicineNet.com.Read more in Gender Differences in Health