Because breast cancer in men is rare, it’s not widely included with general breast cancer awareness. But about 1 out of 100 of those diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States are men. Even though their diagnoses may be less frequent, the National Cancer Institute reports that “[T]he 5-year overall survival rate after a diagnosis of breast cancer was 77.6% for men, compared with 86.4% for women.”
Despite this higher mortality rate, there is very little discussion about breast cancer in men, and therefore a stigma often surrounds the subject. It is sometimes seen as a “woman’s disease,” making men feel ostracized in their experience.
Bringing awareness to men’s breast cancer can be a step towards early detection, and therefore a higher survival rate.
What is Male Breast Cancer?
Though usually in smaller amounts than women, men have their own breast tissue which can become cancerous. While exact causes are not fully known, there are three main types:
- Invasive ductal carcinoma: The most common form of breast cancer, this is cancer that starts in the ducts, then spreads to other parts of the body.
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): This is early cancer within the ducts (which in women produce milk) that has not spread to other breast tissue.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma: This is cancer that begins in the breast lobules and expands to other parts of the body.
Screening for Male Breast Cancer
Female breast cancer is best detected by mammograms, but due to differences in tissue size, mammograms are not an option for men. “Because men have so little breast tissue,” the American Cancer Society shares, “cancers do not need to grow very far to reach the nipple, the skin covering the breast, or the muscles underneath the breast.”
This is why awareness, self-exams, and conversation with your doctor are key. Breast cancer survivor Joe Reid was diagnosed in 2005, and told Fox News “If [men are] familiar with their bodies, they’ll know when something that’s there shouldn’t be.”
Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer
Since self-exams are so crucial for men, signs to look for in breast tissue include:
- Tangible lumps or swelling
- Persistent redness or flakiness
- Any discharge from the nipple
- Nipple pain, or “pulling in” of the nipple.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor right away, especially if you have a family history of breast cancer.
Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer
The causes for male breast cancer are yet to be determined, though there are a few risk factors.
- Age: Men at any age can be diagnosed with male breast cancer, though those above the age of 50 have a higher risk.
- Genetic mutations/inherited genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase risk, as well as family history of breast cancer.
- Conditions affecting testicles such as injury, swelling, or surgical removal.
- Liver disease
Prevention of Male Breast Cancer
Continuing conversations around male breast cancer may be the best form of prevention. They will help address the stigma, and move away from the notion that breast cancer is something only women face. If men become more comfortable with the idea of male breast cancer, they can begin regular self-examinations and conversations with their doctor, and therefore become better able to treat the disease should it arise.
We at OIA Cardinal Points Imaging are equally dedicated to everyone’s health – men’s or women’s — and can especially assist in this sensitive regard. Set up an appointment today with our specialists by visiting our website or calling us at (919) 877-5400.