BREAST CANCER is usually considered a “woman’s disease”. However, men too are susceptible to this disease and the incidence of breast cancer is increasing in men.
What is breast cancer?
Our body consists of cells. Normal cells grow, multiply and die in an orderly manner and are replaced by new cells. Cancer cells do not die but continue to multiply in a disorderly manner. Over time they can form a mass which may be malignant, in other words, cancerous. Breast cancer develops when this process occurs in the cells of the breast tissue.
Breast cancer in men
Breast cancer is 100 times more likely to be diagnosed in a woman than in a man. Men have comparatively small amounts of breast tissue compared to a woman. As a result it is sometimes easier to detect a mass in a man than it is in a woman. However, because men have less breast tissue than women, breast cancer often metastasizes (spreads) to other tissues and organs more quickly in a man than it would in a woman. Breast cancer in men is often smaller than those detected in women but are more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Most breast cancers in men start near the nipple.
What increases my risk?
A RISK FACTOR increases the likelihood that you will develop a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors for breast cancer in men include:
Age – The older a man is the greater his risk of developing breast cancer. Most cases occur in men over the age of 65.
Family Medical History – Having one or more close family relatives – your mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son – diagnosed with breast cancer will increase a man’s risk of developing breast cancer.
In some cases, a defective gene can be passed on which will increase the risk. There are several associated with breast cancer including BRCA1, BRCA2, and CHEK2 genes.
Klinefelter Syndrome – a medical condition present from birth in which males have an extra female chromosome, increasing the level of the female hormone estrogen in the blood.
Alcohol – The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer regardless of the type of alcohol you drink.
Obesity– Obesity will increase a man’s risk because fat cells convert male hormones into estrogen.
Liver Disease – The liver has an important role in hormone metabolism and this is disrupted when the liver is damaged. Men with liver disease such as cirrhosis have higher levels of estrogen in their blood.
Radiation exposure – If a man’s chest has been exposed to radiation e.g. perhaps in the treatment of a previous cancer diagnosis, he will be at increased risk.
What decreases my risk?
Men can lower their risk of breast cancer by maintaining an ideal body weight by exercising on a regular basis and eating a low-fat diet. Men can also reduce their risk by limiting their alcohol intake.
Screening tests are done on persons who have no signs or symptoms of a disease.
At this time there is NO recommended screening test for men for breast cancer.
However, men are advised to become familiar with their breasts by looking and feeling them for any changes in the color, size, shape or texture of the tissue surrounding the nipple, areola and surrounding tissue. All changes should be reported to a doctor.
What are the signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men?
Changes in your breast that you might FEEL or SEE are:
- Lumps – A lump or thickening of a breast and surrounding tissue.
- Appearance – Skin dimpling or puckering of the tissue around the breast.
- Nipple change – A discharge from the nipple or a change of nipple position e.g. it may be pointing inward or redness or scaling of the nipple.
How is breast cancer diagnosed in men?
There are a number of options if a doctor suspects a man has breast cancer including:
Clinical breast exam in which a doctor will examine the breasts and surrounding tissue.
Diagnostic mammogram which is a special x-ray that will take multiple views of the breast.
Ultrasound one of the more common methods of diagnosing breast cancer in men.
Biopsy in which a sample of the breast tissue is collected and sent to a laboratory for examination by a pathologist.
KNOW what is NORMAL for your breasts.
LOOK AT and FEEL your breasts once a month.
KNOW what CHANGES to look for.
REPORT any changes without delay to your doctor.