Even though it’s often thought of as a woman’s disease, breast cancer can be a very real danger for men, too. read on to learn more about how breast cancer affects men.
Every October, a sea of pink washes over the country. Ribbons, yoga mats, and even football players’ uniforms turn a rosy hue in support of breast cancer awareness.
Some men may not pay much attention to the message. But perhaps they should. Although it does strike 100 women for every man, breast cancer doesn’t solely rank as a female disease. Currently, about one in 1,000 men will develop the condition in his lifetime. And cases among guys are on the rise—one study showed a 26 percent boost in male breast cancer between 1975 and 2010.
This year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 2,300 men will receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. About 430 will die of the disease. When detected early, male breast cancer is highly treatable. But a lack of awareness can cause men and even doctors to miss the disease.
As children, girls’ and boys’ breasts don’t differ that much. Males have a nipple, fatty tissue, and even milk ducts. During puberty, female hormones like estrogen and progesterone instruct women’s breasts to grow. That’s also when they develop milk-producing lobules. This extra tissue, along with higher levels of hormones like estrogen, places women at higher risk for cancer. Their breast cells are more likely to turn cancerous and grow out of control.
But the same type of cell growth can cause tumors to form in men, too. Like women, men also have lymph nodes in their armpits and chest. These small, fluid-filled sacs usually carry cells that help fight infections. However, if tumors form in the breast tissue, cancer cells use these pathways to spread throughout the body.
Most men with breast cancer develop noticeable lumps in their chest. Other common symptoms include:
Having one or more of these signs doesn’t mean a man has cancer. But it does mean he should make an appointment with the doctor to find out the cause.
Doctors can’t always predict who will get breast cancer. But they have identified factors that increase certain men’s chances. In fact, many of the same factors that raise the risk for women also apply to men. For instance:
Men who notice changes in their breast tissue should see their doctors. In most cases, it isn’t cancer. But for those who do have breast cancer, catching it before it spreads to the lymph nodes can increase the chances of successful treatment.
Doctors use the same types of tests to diagnose breast cancer in both sexes. For instance, men may undergo a clinical breast exam, biopsy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. If fluid leaks from your nipple, your doctor will probably check it for cancer cells. Similar tests can give your doctor information that will help choose the best treatment. The standard options include:
Often, a combination works best. Many men have surgery first, then another treatment to remove any remaining cancer.
Men with breast cancer fare similarly as women diagnosed at the same stage.
Still, men who survive breast cancer do face an increased risk of getting another type of cancer later on. That’s especially true for men with genetic risks for breast cancer. BRCA genes, for instance, also increase the risk for prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Another way men and women differ: A breast cancer diagnosis can be psychologically challenging in different ways. In one study, men reported feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, emasculation, and depression due to their disease. Counseling may help them cope.
By Cindy Kuzma, a feature writer for Vitality. For more information, visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org and search for “breast cancer in men.”
Some risk factors for breast cancer remain outside men’s—and women’s—control. But the same healthy choices can prevent the disease in both sexes. To reduce your risk: