People often don’t expect men to get breast cancer. But males do, in fact, have a small amount of breast tissue, and they can get breast cancer — thought it’s far less common than in women.
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For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833, according to the American Cancer Society (versus a 1 in 8 chance for women). An estimated 2,620 men will be diagnosed with it this year.
Who’s at risk?
Several risk factors can increase the odds that a man will develop breast cancer, yet many men develop the disease without experiencing any of them.
Many of these risk factors are similar for men and women, says oncologist and Director of Breast Medical Oncology Halle Moore, MD. They include:
- Age. In general, the risk of breast cancer goes up as a man ages, with an average age of diagnosis of 72.
- Alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption and liver disease increase the risk of breast cancer in men.
- Family history. Men are more likely to develop breast cancer if other blood relatives have had it.
- Genetic mutations. The BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can increase the risk of breast cancer for anyone. Experts suspect that the CHEK2 and PTEN genes may also be responsible for some breast cancers in men.
- Other medical conditions or treatments. Some studies have shown that men with Klinefelter syndrome are more likely to develop breast cancer. Men with this condition have cells with at least one additional X chromosome. Compared with other men, they have more of the female hormone estrogen and less of the male hormone androgen. A man who has had radiation treatment for another condition also has a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
The most common signs of male breast cancer include:
- A lump in the breast that may not cause any pain.
- Puckering or dimpling of the skin on the breast.
- A nipple that retracts.
- Redness or scaling of the nipple.
- Discharge from the nipple.
Managing breast cancer in men
Generally, breast cancer is diagnosed and managed similarly in men and women. Diagnosis can involve a clinical examination, mammogram, ultrasound and/or biopsy. Treatment could include removal of the breast, lump and lymph node surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and anti-estrogen therapy.
Because breast cancer in men is rare, most of the estimates we have about treatment, survival and outcomes are derived from studies of women with the disease, Dr. Moore explains. But it is clear that outlook for men with breast cancer depends on the stage at which the cancer is found, along with other factors.
It’s important for men with breast cancer to take care of themselves. This includes following their cancer treatment plan and having appropriate follow up. Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy, exercising and avoiding tobacco and alcohol is imperative, too.
It may also be a good idea to look for clinical trials. While men have historically not been included in breast cancer trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called on more drug companies to include them.