Male Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

Breast tissue is found in both men and women; therefore, breast cancer can occur in men. If a man finds a lump in his breast, it is essential he seek immediate evaluation. Where a woman can have many benign breast lumps such as cysts, etc., they are very rare in men. Therefore, anything out of the ordinary warrants a closer examination.

The most benign condition that is found in men is called gynecomastia. This can be caused by medication, hormonal disorders and exposure to the female hormone estrogen. Men produce small amounts of estrogen, just as women produce small amounts of testosterone. When there is an overabundance in either, side effects occur. In women, overgrowth of testosterone can cause a loss of menstruation, unwanted hair growth and sometimes infertility. In men, estrogen can cause gynecomastia or a benign growth of their breast tissue, often under the nipple.

 

What increases your risk?

The BRCA Gene mutation
Genetics can also lead to breast disorders in men. Men who carry the BRCA gene are of greater risk of breast cancer than men whose family does not carry the gene mutation. Another rare, genetic condition called Klinefelter syndrome can cause gynecomastia and possibly breast cancer

Family History
1 out of 5 men have a first or second generation relative with breast cancer, both male and female. Men who have breast cancer can pass the risk on to their daughters as well. Women should not only look to their mothers and aunts when assessing family history, because they can inherit it from their fathers and their fathers can inherit it from their own mothers or fathers.


Previous cancers that required chest radiation

If a man had another cancer and received radiation to the chest area, there is an increased risk of him developing breast cancer. Some men treated for spinal conditions as children, when radiation guidelines were not as strict, are also at risk. For example, many women who were treated for scoliosis as children and received many X-rays to evaluate their condition later went on to develop breast cancer. Alcohol Abuse and Liver DamageMen who are heavy drinkers whose alcohol consumption adversely effects their liver functioning or even damages the liver, increase their estrogen level and this leads to an increased risk of breast cancer.

 

Obesity

Fat contains estrogen cells. Male hormones are converted to estrogen in fat cells. This leads to an increased risk of breast cancer.

 

Other Diseases

Treatment for prostate cancer sometimes includes hormonal treatment including estrogen. That raises a man’s risk for breast cancer. If a man had the mumps as an adult or had to have his testicles removed because of testicular cancer, his estrogen level will be higher; this could potentially affect his breast tissue.

Occupational Hazards
Men who worked in heavy metals, petroleum based manufacturing, may have affected their hormone levels. This is not completely understood, but studies are being conducted to see if there is a connection between these occupations and an increase in estrogen, leading to an increased risk in breast cancer.

 


 

How is it found?

Breast cancer in men is found the same way in men as it is in women. The only difference is awareness. A woman is geared to look for a lump and act on it. A man may not think there is anything to a lump on his breast. The sooner men become aware of this risk, the better the long term outcome will be for their prognosis, because their cancers will be found early, when they are the most treatable.

If a man feels his breast has enlarged, or finds an abnormal swelling, fast action is vital. Because it can spread to his lymph nodes faster than a woman’s can, because there is less breast tissue to contain the cancer cells.

Men can get mammograms, ultra-sounds and MRIs to evaluate their breasts. If a man has a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, prophylactic screening is recommended to find any cancer that may be too small to be felt. Being tested for the familial genetic mutation, BRCA can also guide screening timelines.

Treatment

Right now, there is no difference between the treatment of male breast cancer and female breast cancer. This includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal treatment.
Men are often diagnosed late stage, when their options are fewer. Early detection is the best defense. The only way a man can get early detection is if he knows his risks.

 

What to look for:

  • A change in breast size

  • Painless lump or thick tissue

  • Change in the appearance of skin covering the breast: Dimpling, puckering, orange peel looking

  • Redness or inflammation of the skin or nipple

  • Discharge from the nipple, clear or cloudy, any discharge at all

 

For other information on Male Breast Cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/malebreast/Patient/page1