Yes, it’s true. Men just like women have breast tissue that can develop abnormal cancerous cells. However, the last several decades have led to significant advances in the treatment and detection of breast cancer. So, whether you are male or female, with early detection, breast cancer can be treatable and beatable.
Men get breast cancer at significantly lower rates than women. The American Cancer Center (ACS) estimates that 1,720 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2006 and of those, 27 percent are estimated to die from the disease, compared to 19 percent of women with breast cancer.
Male breast cancer may be less common than other male cancers, but the death rate is significantly higher for male breast cancer than for both prostate (9 percent) and testicular cancer (4 percent).
Lack of awareness about male breast cancer can be fatal – men with breast cancer often mistake visible lumps for other problems or ignore them until it is too late; embarrassment and social stigma can also contribute to later diagnosis. Cancer found at a later stage may be less likely to be effectively treated.
Male breast cancer is most common in men between the ages of 60 and 70.
According to the American Cancer Society, the number of breast cancer cases has been increasing in the last 20 years; this is due, in part, to earlier detection with increased use of mammography.
Please Note: For a free breast self exam guide please click here
A Family Health Tree to help identify breast cancer in your family can be found here.
About Male Breast Cancer
Many people do not realize that men are able to develop breast cancer. Although men are 100 times less likely to develop breast cancer than women, all men have breast cells that can become cancerous. Breast cancer is most common in men between the ages of 60 and 70.
Men with breast cancer often mistake visible lumps and/or bumps for other problems or ignore them until it is too late. Embarrassment and social stigma also contribute to later diagnosis, and cancer found at a later stage may be less likely to be effectively treated.
The prognosis is similar for both men and women with breast cancer at each stage of the disease. Like with women, early diagnosis and awareness are key components to increasing survival in men.
Detection: Signs & Symptoms
DETECTION: Signs & Symptoms
Early detection: signs & symptoms, is the key to surviving breast cancer. Breast cancer is more treatable if caught in the first stages. The following are common signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
A lump or thickening in the breast (often painless)
Skin dimpling or puckering
Development of a new retraction or indentation in the nipple
Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
A spontaneous clear or bloody discharge from the nipple
Most breast lumps are non-cancerous, but any lumps should be checked by a doctor. Additionally, other signs of breast cancer should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
A risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you will get a particular disease. But, not all risk factors are created equal. Some risk factors, such as your age, sex and family history, can’t be changed; other factors are controllable, including smoking and a poor diet, meaning they are personal choices over which you have some control.
Having one or even several risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get breast cancer. Some men with more than one risk factor never get breast cancer, whereas others with no risk factors do.
Factors that may make you more susceptible to male breast cancer include:
Age. Breast cancer is most commonly diagnosed in men between the ages of 60 and 70, with the average age being 67.
Family history. If a close relative, such as a mother or sister, has breast cancer, then there is a greater chance of also developing the disease. About one in five men with breast cancer have a relative who’s had it too. Just because you have a family history of breast cancer doesn’t mean it’s hereditary, though.
Genetic predisposition. In men, between five percent and 10 percent of breast cancers are inherited. Defects in one of several genes, especially BRCA2 — and if you’re Jewish, BRCA1 — put you at greater risk of developing breast and prostate cancers. Usually these genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep cells from growing abnormally. But if they have a mutation, the genes aren’t as effective at protecting you from cancer. Men with a BRCA2 mutation have a 7 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer — about 100 times more than other men. Inherited mutations in the CHEK-2 gene and the p53 tumor suppressor gene also make it more likely that you’ll develop breast cancer.
Radiation exposure. If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
Klinefelter syndrome. This condition results from a congenital abnormality of the sex chromosomes, X and Y. A male normally has only one X and one Y chromosome. In Klinefelter’s syndrome, two or more X chromosomes are present in addition to one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome contains the genetic material that determines the sex of a child and related development. The extra X chromosome that occurs in Klinefelter’s syndrome causes abnormal development of the testicles. As a result, men with this syndrome produce lower levels of certain male hormones – androgens – and more female hormones – estrogens, which can cause noncancerous breast growth (gynecomastia). Men with this condition may be at greater risk of breast cancer, though this connection is still unclear.
Exposure to estrogen. If you take estrogen-related drugs, such as those used as part of a sex change procedure, you have a much higher risk of breast cancer. Estrogen drugs also may be used in hormone therapy for prostate cancer. Such drugs may slightly increase your risk of breast cancer. However, the risk is small and wouldn’t outweigh the benefit of treating prostate cancer.
Liver disease. If you have liver disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver, your body’s androgen activity may be reduced and its estrogen activity greater. This can increase your risk of gynecomastia and breast cancer.
Excess weight. Obesity may be a risk factor for breast cancer in men, because it increases the number of fat cells in the body. Fat cells convert androgens into estrogen, increasing the amount of estrogen in your body and, therefore, your risk of breast cancer.
Excessive use of alcohol. If you drink heavy amounts of alcohol, you have a greater risk of breast cancer.
Information provided by the Mayo Clinic.
Breast cancer treatment options are the same for men as they are for women, and treatments exist for every type and stage of breast cancer. Although some men may only need surgery, many others will need surgery and additional treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy. Talk to your health care team in order to find the best treatment option(s) for you.
Male breast cancer treatments include:
Surgery Men usually do not have the option for breast-sparing surgery like women. Men have very little tissue underneath the nipple, and most of the tissue must be removed in order to remove the cancer.
Simple Mastectomy A surgeon removes all of the breast tissue, including the lobules, ducts, fatty tissue, and a strip of skin with the nipple and areola. Additional treatment may be needed depending on the results of the operation.
Modified Radical Mastectomy Most male breast cancer patients require a modified radical mastectomy. Here, a surgeon removes your entire breast and some underarm (auxiliary) lymph nodes but leaves your chest muscles intact. If the cancer has spread into the chest wall, a surgeon may need to perform a radical mastectomy which also removes the chest wall muscles. After surgery, the lymph nodes will be tested to see if the cancer has spread, and further treatment may be necessary depending on the results.
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy Breast cancer first spreads to the lymph nodes under the arms. In the past, surgeons would try to remove every lymph nodes possible, but removing all lymph nodes greatly increased the risk of numbness, recurrent infections, and serious swelling of the arm. A procedure has been developed to find the sentinel nodes, the first nodes to receive the drainage from breast tumors and therefore the first to develop cancer. If a sentinel node is removed, examined, and found to be healthy, the chance of finding cancer in any of the remaining nodes is very small, and no other nodes need to be removed. Removal of a single node for examination spares the need for a more extensive operation and greatly decreases the risk of complications. A sentinel lymph node biopsy should be performed by a team experienced with the procedure.
Radiation Therapy Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors and is administered by a radiation oncologist at a radiation center. The therapy is used to shrink the tumor before surgery or eliminate any remaining cancer cells in the breast, chest muscles, or armpit after surgery. Most men who undergo radiation therapy receive external beam radiation, in which a machine outside the body administers the radiation. The treatment usually starts three or four weeks after surgery, and lasts five days a week for five or six consecutive weeks. Radiation is painless and is similar to getting an X-ray, but the effects are cumulative. Most men become quite tired toward the end of the series, and the breast may be pink, puffy, and tender, similar to a sunburn.
Chemotherapy Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells, and doctors often recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have spread outside the breast. Treatment can involve two or more drugs in different combinations that may be administered intravenously, in pill form or both. The treatments usually occur every two or three weeks for three to six months.Certain chemotherapies target the cancer itself which may minimize damage to healthy cells. These therapies also may help reduce side effects such as nausea and vomiting that accompany standard chemotherapy. There are also therapies that provide choices to patients in terms of method of delivery and timing. Depending upon the type and stage of their breast cancer, some patients have the option of taking chemotherapy in a pill form, rather than intravenously (administered through a vein); patients taking oral chemotherapy may find it more convenient because they can take it at home, work or while traveling, and spend less time at the clinic or hospital.Some chemotherapy treatment regimens can feel like another illness, and side effects include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. The side effects can be more difficult to manage because chemotherapy affects healthy cells, especially fast-growing cells in the digestive tract, hair and bone marrow, as well as cancerous cells. Not everyone has side effects, and there are treatments available to help reduce or control some of them. Additionally, “chemobrain,” the common term for cognitive changes that occur during and after cancer treatment, may also occur; chemotherapy can affect your cognitive abilities by word searching during conversation, short-term memory lapses, difficulty multi-tasking, slower learning, and slower processing speed.
Hormone Therapy In estrogen receptor positive cancer, estrogen may encourage the growth of cancerous breast cells. Although men have lower levels of estrogen than women, 75% of male breast cancers have estrogen receptors. Hormone medication can be administered in order to prevent estrogen from bonding to certain sites in the breast and other parts of the body, thus helping destroy cancer cells that have spread or reducing the chances that cancer will recur. Male hormones, androgens, also play a role in the growth of breast cancer, and limiting androgens using hormone therapy appears to effectively reduce the spread of cancer.
Biological Therapy Biological therapy, also known as biological response modifier or immunotherapy, tries to stimulate the body’s immune system to fight cancer. In the treatment, the use of substances produced by the body or similar substances made in a laboratory seeks to enhance the body’s natural defenses against specific diseases. Many biological therapies are experimental and are only available in clinical trials.
Mental Health Implications
Educate Yourself You may feel as if you have lost control of your life. In order to regain charge, educate yourself about breast cancer and treatment options. You will be making many decisions in the near future. The best way to make the right decision for you is to have the most information you can. Books on breast cancer and reputable Internet sources are a great place to begin learning. Be sure to look for the most current information available. Breast cancer treatments are becoming more and more advanced everyday, and information quickly becomes outdated. Also, look at many sources in order to find the most complete information possible.
Questions for Your Doctor Your doctor will be willing to answer any questions that you may have. Below is a starter list of good questions to ask your doctor and/or medical team:
What type of breast cancer do I have?
Is my cancer in situ or invasive?
Has my cancer spread beyond the primary site?
What is the stage of my cancer and what does that mean in my case?
What treatments are appropriate for me? What do you recommend? Why?
What are the risks of side effects that I should expect?
What should I do to get ready for treatment?
What are the chances of recurrence of cancer with the treatment programs we have discussed?
What is my expected prognosis, based on my cancer as you view it?
Help and Encouragement Your medical team – a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and any other medical professional – are great people to help you make decisions. However, you may also want to talk to a counselor or medical social worker to talk through issues and help make the best decision for you. Many men find it encouraging to speak with other men who have cancer and inspiring to hear the many survival stories.
Telling Others One of the first challenges you may face is how to tell the people closest to you. If you have children, telling them can be difficult, no matter what their ages. It’s best to be as honest as you can, yet you do not have to give all the details. How much and what you say will depend on each child’s age and their ability to understand. It isn’t a good idea to try to hide your illness. Instead, tell them you are doing everything you can to get well. You may also be faced with the decision of whether or not to tell friends and coworkers. At first, you may not want anyone outside your family to know. However, you may find it helpful to confide in close friends and coworkers. Exactly how much and who you tell is still up to you. People may not always react the way you expect. Some may have feelings of anger, fear, or grief, while others may be incredibly supportive. Some people may not say much and may even avoid you, but it is not because they don’t care. They may not know what to say. Assure them that their concern is enough, and there are no right words.
Maintaining a Strong Support System Friends and family are often an integral part of your treatment. More and more research is finding that strong relationships are crucial in dealing with life-threatening illnesses. You may also find it helps to have the support of other men with cancer. Your doctor or a medical social worker can put you in touch with a group near you, or you may contact one of the many cancer organizations.
Taking Care of Yourself You’ll need to plan your schedule carefully, in order to ensure plenty of time for rest. Your friends and family want to help you, although they may not know how. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help and be specific about your needs. You will probably also want to stay as independent as possible. People may try to take over your life or act as if you’re terribly fragile in their effort to help. This can be detrimental to your recovery, so don’t hesitate to tell others how you want to be treated. Now is a great time to start taking better care of your general health, such as eating a better diet, getting regular exercise, and reducing stress. Stress-reduction techniques and exercise can actually help relieve some of the side effects associated with radiation and chemotherapy. Take time to examine your life and evaluate how you can achieve your goals. A new priority should be to live your life to the fullest.
For Women Only
Awareness and Early Detection
Women can help the men in their lives with awareness and early detection of breast cancer. Almost every woman knows the dangers of breast cancer, but few men know that it can affect them too. Encourage the men in your lives to perform self-breast exams. Anything unusual should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
Facts about Male Breast Cancer
Men who are between the ages of 60 and 70 are more likely to develop breast cancer.
Men who have prostate cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer.
Men are 100 times less likely to develop breast cancer than women.
Men with breast cancer have the same prognosis as women.
Men have the same treatment options available as women.
Men need a support system to rely on in the face of an illness such as breast cancer. In fact, strong relationships are crucial in dealing with life-threatening illnesses, and friends and family will become a vital part of treatment. Try your best to help out the man in your life suffering from breast cancer, whether it be your husband, father, uncle, other family member, or friend. It is also important to respect the wishes of anyone dealing with an illness such as breast cancer.
Survivors of Male Breast Cancer
In late 2014, I came home after exercising and noticed a lump on my right nipple. My sisters, who were oncology nurses, told me to see a doctor. I had a mammogram in December 2014 and was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer at age 63.
I look in the mirror and there it is. A diagonal line, about eight inches long. It stretches from my right armpit to my sternum. It’s always there. The scar. It’s always there.
It has been nearly nine years, but it seems like it was yesterday. I was a 57-year-old healthy and fit father of four working as a Fireman in a New York City public high school. I remember clearly when the doctor told me “You have breast cancer.”
My journey with breast cancer began in August 2000, when I was 19 years old. At the time I was living in Ireland and about to undertake my second year of my college degree. Not surprisingly, it came as a huge shock. I had no idea men could get breast cancer never mind a young, active 19-year-old! I subsequently found out that having breast cancer at that age was a very rare occurrence.
I am a 15 year US Army Ranger and veteran. I have always led a very healthy lifestyle. I never smoked or drank and have always been an active person, so when I noticed a hard lump in my chest I really didn’t pay it any mind.
I am truly living my dream. I’m at my restaurant seven days a week. My doctors check me every six months. I have never had a doubt I would beat cancer!
I never would have thought in a million years that a man could get breast cancer.
Always an avid believer in keeping myself in tip top physical shape, I spent a lot of my free time toning my physique at the gym. All that and my whole world changed in October 2012.
As a 41-year-old dad of three children, I elected to have a bilateral mastectomy even though the genetic tests for BRCA 1/2 mutations were negative.