Men get breast cancer too

November 11, 2015 | by Joseph Kash, MD

While there is much awareness about breast cancer in women, there is very little awareness of the disease in men. The American Cancer Society reports about 2,350 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The lifetime risk of getting male breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

Since the disease is rare in men — it’s about 100 times less common among men than woman — many men do not think they can get it at all. However, for those it affects, a lack of awareness can prohibit early detection and reduce a man’s chances for effective treatment.

Here are some symptoms men should be aware of:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction or discharge
  • Redness or swelling of the nipple or breast skin

Often, breast masses in men are painless so men ignore them. Some men are too embarrassed to share symptoms with their doctor. They often don’t seek medical care until the lumps have gotten large and had a chance to grow. As a result, men are generally diagnosed at more advanced stages of the disease.

While there are some similarities between breast cancer in men and women, here are risk factors specific to men:

  • Age – the risk of breast cancer in men increases as a man ages. The average age of diagnosis for male breast cancer is about 68 years of age.
  • Family history – about 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative with the disease.
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome – this is the strongest risk factor for developing male breast cancer due to the high ratio of estrogen to testosterone that this condition causes.
  • Liver disease – severe liver disease, such as cirrhosis, causes a higher ratio of estrogen to testosterone, and an increased breast cancer risk.

So what can men do to lower the risk of breast cancer? It’s important to maintain a healthy body weight and restrict alcohol consumption. Since the cause of most male breast cancers is unknown, the best defense is early detection, which improves the chances of successful treatment.

A man should talk with his doctor about screening, especially if there is a strong family history of breast cancer, BRCA mutations found by genetic testing, or if he experiences any symptoms associated with the disease. Because men have very little breast tissue, it’s easier to feel small tumors. 

The bottom line is if something doesn’t feel right, man up and get it checked out.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Joseph Kash, MD is a medical oncologist and hematologist at Edward Hospital Cancer Center.

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