Dr. Ali Kasraeian has diagnosed breast cancer in four men over the past year. This is not something that you hear much about but it does occur. Although the cases are relatively rare, men can develop cancer that originates from the breast. Male breast cancer shows a similar pathology to female breast cancer, and requires a self-examination to the detect the lump in the breast just below the nipple, upon which further investigation is required.
What causes breast cancer in men?
A man’s breast duct cells can undergo cancerous changes, even if it is less common in men because their breast duct cells are less developed than those of women.
Some of the known risk factors for causing breast cancer among men include radiation exposure, exposure to female hormones (estrogen), and genetic factors. High estrogen exposure may occur by medications, obesity, or liver disease, and genetic links include a high prevalence of female breast cancer in close relatives.
Chronic alcoholism has also been linked to male breast cancer. The highest risk for male breast cancer is carried by men with Klinefelter syndrome.
What is the difference between male and female breast cancer?
One major difference is that lesions are easier to find in men due to the smaller breast size. This is may seem like a blessing but the curse is that the lack of awareness may postpone seeking medical attention. Most cases of male breast cancer are detected in men between the ages of 60 and 70, while women tend to develop breast cancer at a comparatively younger age.
How is male breast cancer treated?
Besides self-examination, other less common symptoms of male breast cancer include nipple discharge, nipple retraction, or swelling of the breast. At the time of diagnosis, ultrasound and mammography may also be used for further definition.
The most common type of male breast cancer is infiltrating ductal carcinoma, which is also a common type of breast cancer in women. Ductal carcinoma refers to cancers with origins in the ducts (tubular structures) of the breast, and the term infiltrating means that the cancer cells have spread beyond the ducts into the surrounding tissue. Ductal carcinoma accounts for about 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer in men, and is almost always curable with surgery.
Treatment for male breast cancer largely follows patterns that have been set for the management of postmenopausal breast cancer. Almost half of male breast cancer patients are at stage III or IV cancer. Depending on the condition, breast cancer in men is treated with hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both.
Breast cancer in men is so rare that it only contributes to about 1% of all breast cancers treated annually. But despite the small figures, the number of annual deaths in the US due to breast cancer was about 450 in 2011. Although breast cancer is far more common in women than in men, it is still recommended men consult with the right doctor to check for symptoms at the earliest.
Sources:American Cancer Society Medicinenet Wikipedia