It’s a question we hear here and there, but much less often than we should. Breast cancer is typically seen as female-specific cancer - much like how prostate cancer is only associated with men - but this is a misconception. Although breast cancer is extremely rare in men, it can also affect them. According to BreastCancer.org, only about 1% of breast cancer cases occur in men, which is partly why so many men are unaware of the risks. Lack of awareness makes breast cancer extremely dangerous for men, who often do not consider their symptoms to be signs of breast cancer until the disease is more advanced.
This is why we wanted to take a moment to discuss breast cancer in men, including which risk factors and symptoms to be aware of.
Boys and girls are both born with breast tissue, which includes ducts for carrying milk. During puberty, women’s ducts develop lobules, which allow for breastfeeding, and a surplus of hormones permit the breasts to grow and protrude. While men’s breasts do not go through these changes, they can still develop breast cancer in their breast tissue and ducts.
Most people don’t realize these similarities mean that men can get breast cancer too, a lack of awareness which explains why men with breast cancer experience a higher mortality rate than their female counterparts. While women are constantly encouraged to receive annual mammograms, check for lumps, and take precautionary steps, men are usually unaware of the silent threat and do not take these precautionary steps nor consider a lump to be a sign of breast cancer.
Understanding the causes, risk factors, and symptoms is a good way of improving the detection of breast cancer in men, as well as the survival rates.
Men can develop breast cancer for a variety of reasons:
High radiation exposure: For the treatment of cancer in the chest (lymphoma)
High levels of estrogen: From estrogen-related drugs or hormone therapy for prostate cancer.
A family history of breast cancer.
Klinefelter's syndrome: A condition in which a man is born with more than one X chromosome, which causes abnormal growth of the testicles resulting in lower levels of androgens and higher levels of estrogen.
Liver disease: Certain disease such as cirrhosis of the liver, can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones.
Inherited gene mutations: Men with a mutation (defect) in the BRCA2 gene or BRCA1 gene suffer from increased chance of developing breast cancer.
Testicular Condition: Having an undescended testicle, an inflamed testicle, or having one or both testicles surgically removed may increase the chance of breast cancer.
Obesity: Fat cells in the body can convert male hormones into female hormones, meaning obese men may have higher levels of estrogen in their bodies.
The symptoms of breast cancer in men are the same as the symptoms of breast cancer in women. Any mass, breast changes, dimpling, puckering, nipple retraction, redness, scaling, or nipple discharge is a red flag and is cause to consult your physician immediately.
Breast cancer is highly treatable when discovered in the early stages, so it’s important that men and women pay attention to any breast abnormalities that they may experience. Consult your doctor immediately to address the situation and receive a medical professional's expertise.
Let’s break the misconception that breast cancer only occurs in women and spread awareness for men’s breast cancer. Being informed about the symptoms and risks associated with breast cancer in men is of utmost importance, that is why our BICRAD team stresses breast cancer awareness. If you are a man and would like to learn more about your risk for breast cancer, contact us today or schedule an appointment!