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.
And just they do for women, family history and genetics can play a role in the risk factors for male breast cancer.
Male breast cancer patients undergo the same treatments as women. These are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, biological therapy and hormone therapy.
Men seem to be reluctant to visit their doctor when they experience a breast cancer symptom. Unfortunately, this leads to more male breast cancers being diagnosed at a later stage.
An early diagnosis is important when it comes to male breast cancer. Finding it at an early stage translates into a better opportunity to cure the cancer.
"Breast Cancer in Men: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments." WebMD. WebMD. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.
"Male Breast Cancer." Breastcancer.org. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.
"Male Breast Cancer: Get Facts on Symptoms and Treatments." MedicineNet. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.
"Male Breast Cancer." - Mayo Clinic. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.
Reviewed October 13, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith