According to the nonprofit organization for breast cancer, Breastcancer.org, breast cancer in men is a rare occurrence, with less than 1% of all breast cancer occurring in men. In 2019, approximately 2670 men are estimated to be diagnosed. Only 1 in 833 men are at the general risk of developing breast cancer.
While men do not have breasts with sexual reproduction capabilities as women do, they still have breast tissue. Men have the same breast developing hormones that women do, but their bodies do not typically react in the same way.
When Men Develop Breasts
If a man does have what appears to be breasts, it’s often a representation of fatty tissue as opposed to breast tissue. In uncommon instances, breast gland tissue can develop. This is usually as a result of ingesting certain medications that trigger irregular hormone levels or a genetic hormone imbalance.
The rarity of breast cancer in men has contributed to low amounts of research. But for the cases in which it has been studied, we are at least aware of the critical information about the identification and treatment process.
Because men are not required in a physical to routinely screen for breast cancer outside of suspicion of symptoms, the risks must be known. Learning more about the risk factors can help lead to early detection, which is our most significant form of protection against any cancer.
Unfortunately, because of the low numbers of men who are diagnosed, many only realize they are at risk once cancer has progressed. Educate yourself about the risk factors revolving around men’s breast cancer.
While any family history of breast cancer puts men at risk, they are most at risk if it is particularly breast cancer in men. As mentioned, there is the possibility of genetic predisposition.
These genes are known as BRCA1, which contain a likelihood of a 1% risk of mutation into cancer and BRCA2, which contain a risk of 6% chance. However, the highest number of cases are not associated with a family history or genetic mutations.
As testosterone levels in men decrease as they age, risk rises. The average case of breast cancer is found in men of roughly 68 years of age.
Any exposure to radiation of the chest, most commonly concerning lymphoma, increases risk.
This genetic predisposition affects only about one in one thousand men. It is an imbalance in their male to female hormone ratios. In these cases, the female hormone estrogen is much higher. It can lead to gynecomastia or the growth of breast tissue.
Outside of genetics, exposure to hormonal medications, being overweight, exposure to environmental estrogens, excessive alcohol use, and liver disease can all contribute to the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
While it’s reassuring knowing that breast cancer in men is not common, we must continue to spread the word about symptoms as there has been an unfortunate increase in cases over time. Over 25 years, concluding in 1988, a 25% increase was observed.
While this may seem alarming, it is essential to note that there is a possibility that many cases in the past were under-reported or undiagnosed.
Symptoms to watch:
- Nipple pain.
- A lump in the breast.
- Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm area.
- Sores on the areola.
- Nipple discharge.
- An inverted nipple.
Each of these symptoms should be taken seriously and immediately evaluated.
In the situation where breast cancer is of suspicion, the following tests will be run to make a diagnosis.
Examination of Nipple Discharge
The fluid will be collected and examined.
The breast is pressed between two instruments that enable an x-ray image to be taken. The breast is observed from the top, as well as the side. A radiologist then evaluates the images. They search for abnormal findings and choose to investigate further, if necessary. If this is done, it is referred to as a spot magnification.
This method employs high-frequency waves through the breast tissue and translates them into images for an ultrasound technician to report on. This exam is typically ordered in conjunction with other tests, most often mammograms. While they cannot be used to determine cancerous material, they can still provide insight into the density of growths, which is a common indication that a more in-depth look is necessary.
A biopsy is the collection of a sample of breast tissue or growth. They are often invasive, but selected with significant consideration and detailing regarding what is necessary for each case. The most prominently used method is excisional, where the entire lump in question is removed for evaluation.
The Pathology Report
This is a portion of the process that tends to be frustrating for many, as it involves understanding what exactly the doctors are reporting. The report will detail any of the following:
- The type of breast cancer present.
- The stage in which cancer is currently evolved.
- The extent of cancer in the breast or lymph nodes.
- Medical findings on symptoms.
- Physician reference.
- Patient reference.
- Participation in clinical trials.
- The variance between cancer and healthy cells present in the body.
- The size of cancer.
- Lymph node involvement.
- Cancer’s hormone receptor status.
- Cancer’s HER2 status.
It is crucial that as a patient, one is aware of what the pathology is detailing and what it means relative to the plan of action. The surgeon and physicians involved are responsible for clearing up confusion, but questions must be identified and asked.
Practices for the treatment of breast cancer in men include:
- Lymph Node Removal.
- Radiation therapy.
- Hormonal therapy.
- Targeted therapy.
Early Detection, Please
Now that we’ve provided you with a comprehensive guide to understanding breast cancer in males, we implore you to spread the word. Help us to destigmatize any discomfort that might prevent or delay diagnosis. Early detection is our GR8EST defense.