Although extremely rare, breast cancer in men is just as deadly as it is in women – perhaps even more so. Here’s what you need to know…
What is it?
Widely considered to be exclusively a women’s disease, male breast cancer does occur, albeit rarely: only about 1% of all breast cancer will occur in men. Even though guys don’t have bosoms (poor dears), you still have a small amount of breast tissue.
In fact, the ‘breasts’ of a grown man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty takes hold, so you have a few ducts surrounded by breast and other tissue. This tissue grows thanks to female hormones, but men – who don’t secrete these hormones in the same quantities – won’t develop it. However, breast tissue is present, so men can still develop breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, although cancers that involve the milk producing regions of the breast are exceedingly rare.
Who does it affect?
As with women, it’s not possible to say exactly what causes breast cancer in men, although risk factors commonly include:
• age (it’s most common in men between the ages of 60 and 70, and it is extremely rare in men under the age of 35);
• having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer in a close family member;
• having a history of radiation exposure near the chest.
High oestrogen levels may also contribute, though this is a less common risk factor, as is a rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome.
What are the symptoms?
They’re very similar to women:
• a lump around the breast area;
• a discharge from the nipple;
• a change in the shape or appearance of the nipple;
• a change in the shape or appearance of the breast area, such as swelling or dimpling;
• swollen lymph nodes under the arm.
Like breast cancer in women, with early detection there is a good chance of an effective cure. However, since it (understandably) seldom occurs to men to link early symptoms to the disease, diagnosis is often delayed until more severe symptoms are present, by which time the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes. In this case, it may be too advanced for effective treatment.
It’s imperative that you seek medical attention if you notice any changes whatsoever in your breast tissue.
What are the treatment options?
A physical exam, mammogram and biopsy will most likely be used to make a diagnosis, after which standard treatment involves removing the cancerous tissue from the area and then killing any remaining cancerous cells. Usually this will involved surgery and possibly radiotherapy (X-rays are used to destroy cancer cells), chemotherapy (drugs are used to destroy cancer cells) and/or hormonal therapy (which involves decreasing the amount of oestrogen in the body, helping to retard cancer growth).
Again, the effectiveness of these treatments depends on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. So next time you’re flexing those pecs in front of the bathroom mirror, why not take a closer look?