About Breast Cancer in Men

While it is uncommon, men can develop breast cancer.

It accounts for 1% of breast cancer cases or about 1 in 100 of the female rate. New cases estimated by the American Cancer Society for 2012 for women are 229,060 compared to 2,190 for men. Men who develop breast cancer are usually in their 60’s.

Breast cancer is a rare cause of cancer death in men. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 410 men will die from breast cancer in 2012, compared to an estimated 39,920 women.

Development of Breast Cancer in Men

Many people don’t realize that men have breast tissue, including milk ducts and sometimes lobules. Before puberty, both girls and boys have a small amount of breast tissue. At puberty, female hormones cause more breast tissue to develop. In men, hormonal changes at puberty prevent further breast tissue from developing. Like other cells in the body, it’s possible for a man’s breast duct cells to undergo abnormal changes and become cancerous. This happens less frequently in men than women because men have much less breast tissue and it is not constantly subjected to the growth-promoting affects of estrogen.

Men generally get breast cancer in the milk ducts, either infiltrating ductal carcinoma or ductal carcinoma in situ. Cancer of the lobules is very rare in men.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Men

As with women, the cause of breast cancer in men is unknown. There are factors though that may increase a man’s chances of developing breast cancer. Some men with multiple risk factors may never develop the disease, while most men who develop breast cancer have no risk factors at all.

Following are some of the risk factors for breast cancer in men:

  • Over age 60
  • Exposure to radiation in the chest
  • Disease related to high levels of estrogen in the body, such as cirrhosis of the liver or Klinefelter’s syndrome.
  • Mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Strong family history of breast cancer, even in female relatives
  • Gynecomastia, an abnormal enlargement of the breasts
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Estrogen treatment
  • Obesity

Hereditary Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can be caused by a specific hereditary cancer syndrome. The most common of these is called hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome and is caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Genetic counseling/testing is available at Invision Sally Jobe. Risk factors for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer include any of the following in a patient or their family:

  • Female breast cancer prior to age 50 (or at any age, if Ashkenazi Jewish descent)
  • Male breast cancer (at any age)
  • Ovarian cancer (at any age)
  • Two or more of these cancers in a person or family member (at any age)

Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men

If a man notices any changes in his breasts, he should see his doctor immediately. There is often another explanation for the change besides cancer, but it’s important to consult a doctor to clarify the cause of the symptom.

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those for women and include:

  • Lump or swelling
  • Skin dimpling
  • Nipple turning inward
  • Redness or scaliness on the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge

Challenges with Early Detection in Men

Detecting breast cancer early increases the chances of treatment being successful. Unfortunately, breast cancer is generally not found early in men. There are several reasons for this, including:

  1. Many men do not realize that men can also develop breast cancer. Consequently, they are less suspicious of a lump in their breast.
  2. Men generally do not go to a doctor for annual exams, where breast cancer may be noticed by their doctor.
  3. When men notice a lump, they often put off going to the doctor until the lump has become very large.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Breast Cancer in Men

Men undergo the same types of breast exams as women in diagnosing breast cancer. In addition to receiving a clinical breast exam from a doctor, a man may receive one or more of the following imaging exams:

  • Mammogram
  • Breast Ultrasound
  • Breast MRI
  • 3D Mammogram
  • Breast Biopsy

Treating this Condition

While there are several treatment options for breast cancer, there are no radiology procedures for treating breast cancer.

Breast cancer in men is more likely to be estrogen sensitive. Over 75% of male breast cancers are estrogen-receptor-positive, so hormone therapy is often used as part of the treatment plan.

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