Just like heart disease is not just a man’s disease, breast cancer is not a disease affecting only women. Nearly 2,500 cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, and almost 500 men will die from the disease.
Many men put off seeing their doctor, even if they notice one of the signs or symptoms. Here are five things you should know about breast cancer in men.
Men Have Breast Tissue, Too
Men are born with the same breast tissue that women have because a certain level of the female hormone estrogen is present in all males at birth.
In fact, more than half of male infants are born with enlarged breasts because of the transfer of some of their mother’s estrogen in utero, but the swollen breast tissue typically goes away in two to three weeks.
Biggest Risk Factor
For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. Many factors can increase the risk of breast cancer in men, but the biggest is age.
As is the case for women, the risk of breast cancer goes up as a man ages. Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70, but on average, men with breast cancer are about 68 years old when they are diagnosed.
Signs and Symptoms
Male breast cancer exhibits many of the same symptoms as breast cancer in women. Because the risk of breast cancer is so low in men, mammograms or 3D mammography are not routinely recommended, so it’s important for men to pay attention to what their bodies may be trying to tell them.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- A lump or swelling, which is usually (but not always) painless
- Skin dimpling or puckering
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
- Discharge from the nipple
Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. But unlike women, men tend to delay going to the doctor until they have more severe symptoms. At that point the cancer already may have spread.
Men carry a higher mortality rate than women, primarily because awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer.
If there are signs of cancer, tests usually will include a biopsy. Tests not only help to diagnose cancer, but they can also determine how quickly a cancer may grow or spread.
If cancerous cells are discovered, your treatment will be dictated by the stage the cancer is in. Options include chemotherapy, hormone therapy and surgery.
Advances are being made in the treatment of breast cancer among men. Recent molecular studies revealed fundamental differences from female breast cancer that could help guide treatment strategies toward a more tailored approach.
Since the cause of most breast cancers is not known, there is no way to prevent them. But men (and women) can take some preventative measures.
Physical exam: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps.
Clinical breast exam: A thorough breast exam can locate any lumps or suspicious areas.
Blood test: This test may reveal substances in your blood that can be a sign of disease.
Diet: Certain foods contain cancer-fighting antioxidants. Blueberries, walnuts and tomatoes are good choices.
Exercise: Experts recommend getting at least three hours of exercise per week. Studies show exercise decreases the risk of breast cancer by at least 12 percent.
Although less than 1% of breast cancers occur in men, it is still important to know the facts. Paying attention to your body and being aware of lifestyle choices may decrease your risk of developing breast cancer even more. But in the end, early detection is critical.
Learn more about the early detection services and resources available at Fisher-Titus Medical Center by clicking here.