When people think of breast cancer, most often women come to mind. However, men also get breast cancer. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 833.The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that in 2020, about 2,620 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer—breast cancers that have spread into surrounding breast tissue—and about 520 men will die from breast cancer. While that percentage is small compared to women who suffer from breast cancer, it is still a real issue for men. The ACS further indicates that breast cancer is about 100 times less common among white men than among white women. It is about 70 times less common among black men than black women. As with black women, black men with breast cancer tend to have a worse prognosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), although the rates at which men and women get cancer differ, they are both affected by the same kinds of cancers—
- Invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer cells grow outside the ducts into other parts of the breast tissue. Invasive cancer cells can also spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer cells spread from the lobules to the breast tissues that are close by. These invasive cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a breast disease that may lead to breast cancer. The cancer cells are only in the lining of the ducts and have not spread to other tissues in the breast.
The CDC further identifies several risk factors for men that include:
- Age. Most breast cancers are found after age 50. However, they can occur earlier. Read Bret’s story.
- Genetics. Inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes, such as breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer 2 (BRCA2), increase breast cancer risk. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the genes most affected in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer; these genes can be inherited from either parent.
- Family History. Having a close family member with breast cancer--either male or female--increases chances of breast cancer.
- Radiation therapy treatment. Men who have had radiation therapy to the chest have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.
- Hormone therapy treatment. Drugs containing estrogen, which were used to treat prostate cancer in the past, increase men’s breast cancer risk.
Source: CDCKlinefelter syndrome. Klinefelter syndrome is a rare genetic condition in which a male has an extra X chromosome. This can lead to the body making higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of androgens (hormones that help develop and maintain male sex characteristics) and can put men at a higher risk for breast cancer.
- Conditions that affect the testicles. Injury to, swelling in, or surgery to remove the testicles can increase breast cancer risk.
- Liver disease. Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver can lower androgen levels and raise estrogen levels in men, increasing the risk of breast cancer.
- Overweight and obesity. Older men who are overweight or have obesity have a higher risk of getting breast cancer than men at a normal weight.
Some of the signs to look for include any changes to the breast area, including:
- A lump or swelling, which is often (but not always) painless.
- Skin dimpling or puckering.
- Nipple retraction (turning inward).
- Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin.
- Discharge from the nipple.
These changes are not always caused by cancer, but if you notice any breast changes, you should see a health care professional as soon as possible.
Treatment for breast cancer in men is not much different than treatment for women and depends on the severity of the cancer and when it is diagnosed. Depending on the severity, several options may be used, such as chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation, or surgery and removal of the cancerous cells if they have not spread. The stage (extent) of the breast cancer is an important factor in making decisions about treatment options. In general, the more the breast cancer has spread, the more treatment that will be needed.
The bottom line is early detection saves lives. Knowing the signs and being aware of any changes to the chest area can mean the difference between life and death. Have regular annual exams through your health practitioner and learn how to conduct a self-exam. Also, engage in a healthy routine that includes getting enough sleep, reducing stress, eating more fruits and vegetables, and engaging in regular physical activity. Commit to these lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of breast cancer and to contribute positively to your health overall.