Can Men Get Breast Cancer?

 Men never get breast cancer, right?

Wrong. Men not only get breast cancer, but, when they do, they are more likely to die from it than women are. The reason for the difference in mortality rate is largely because of the stigma that men feel about being diagnosed with a disease that is seen to be only for women. Cancer, of any kind, can be life-threatening, but, no matter who it strikes, one of the key factors in survival rates is early detection. The more advanced the disease is, the greater the odds against beating it. Men rarely pay attention unless there is a noticeably large lump. Unfortunately, by this time, it is more than likely to already be growing and possibly spreading.

The embarrassment of having a “woman’s disease” aside, there is far less attention paid to breast cancer in men. There is a reason that all of the awareness campaigns are in pink: roughly, the odds of breast cancer for women are 1 in 8, while for men, they are 1 in 1,000. Once diagnosed, the treatment and prognosis for men and women are basically the same. Bringing medical attention to breast cancer in men would increase early detection and save lives.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Men

With age comes a greater risk for breast cancer for men and women. For men, most breast cancers occur between the ages of 60 and 70. Other factors that increase risk for men include:

  • Family History –family members, especially men, who have or have had breast cancer
  • Radiation – exposure to radiation, especially in the chest
  • Drug or Hormone Treatments – causing enlargement of the breast (gynecomastia)
  • Estrogen – environmental exposure, used to fatten beef cattle and in the pesticide DDT
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome – rare genetic condition in men that results in lower levels of androgens (male hormones) and higher levels of estrogen (female hormones), increasing the growth of breast tissue and risk of breast cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the Liver – increases estrogen level
  • Testicle Abnormalities – diseases of the testicles such as mumps orchitis, injuries to the testicles or conditions like an undescended testicle

While there has been an effort to heighten awareness about male breast cancer, due to the relatively low incidence compared to women, it is unlikely that there will be general screening or a focus on mammograms or other types of testing. This makes individual self-awareness all the more important. Some of the more common signs for men to watch for are:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast, which is usually (but not always) painless
  • Painful nipple
  • An inverted or retracted nipple that turns inward
  • Discharge from the nipple, clear or bloody
  • Sores, redness or scaling on the nipple and areola, the small ring around the center of the nipple
  • Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
  • Skin dimpling or puckering

For anyone diagnosed with cancer, early detection is crucial. According to the American Cancer Society, these are the statistics for 5-year survival rates for men:

Stage I 100%

Stage II 91%

Stage III 72%

Stage IV 20%

By some estimates, there is a gap of more than a year and a half between when the first symptom appears and diagnosis for men. That is simply too long.   

If you are wondering how you can prevent male breast cancer, please watch the following video: