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What You Should Know About Men and Breast Cancer
If you’re a man reading this, you probably Googled “men and breast cancer” because you can’t believe this is happening to you. After all, men don’t have breasts.
But it turns out, men can, in fact, get breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of breast cancer in men is far less than that of breast cancer in women — but it is not unheard of.
They estimate that in 2016, 2,600 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnoses in men, and 400 men will die of breast cancer. Although that seems scary, they also note that men are 100 times less likely to get breast cancer than women.
So How Is Breast Cancer in Men Possible?
Women are far more likely to get breast cancer because they have much more breast tissue. However, men do have a small amount of breast tissue as well.
In fact, the breasts of an adult man can be compared to the breast of a prepubescent girl; the girl will go on to develop full breasts, whereas obviously the man does not. However, because the man has that small amount of breast tissue, he is able to develop breast cancer.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells, which do not function properly.
What Are Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer?
There are several risk factors that may increase the chances of developing breast cancer. However, most men with these risk factors do not go on to develop breast cancer so it is difficult to correlate what causes breast cancer in men.
- Age. The average age at diagnosis is 68.
- Family history. One out of five men with breast cancer have a relative (male or female) with breast cancer.
- Inherited gene mutations. BRCA2 increases the risk of developing breast cancer; men with this gene mutation have a six in 100 chance of developing it. Men with BRCA2 gene mutation have a one in 100 chance.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome. In this syndrome, men receive an extra X chromosome, causing them to have extra estrogen and less testosterone, which sometimes causes gynecomastia (enlarging of the breasts).
- Estrogen treatment. A man may have received estrogen as a treatment for prostate cancer in the past.
- Liver disease. Liver disease may cause elevated estrogen levels. Excess alcohol intake can also cause elevated estrogen levels.
- Obesity. Fat cells convert male hormones into female hormones, causing higher levels of estrogen.
Prognosis of Male Breast Cancer
Prognosis does vary based on the type of breast cancer and the stage when it was detected.
Men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are typically diagnosed later in the disease process than are women with breast cancer, most likely because they do not suspect there is actually a problem in that area.
This can make the cancer more difficult to treat; however, male breast cancer is not different than female breast cancer and if it was detected at the same time, the prognosis would be similar.
Prevention of Breast Cancer
Because we don’t know exactly what causes breast cancer, we can’t pinpoint an exact way to prevent it. However, losing weight and maintaining a regular weight is a good place to start. Restricting alcohol to the recommended amount is also one way to control estrogen levels in the body
Early detection is also important. If you feel a lump, do not ignore it. Seek medical attention as early as possible.
Battling the Stigma
For a man battling breast cancer, there is a stigma that may be associated with their fight. For one, breast cancer is predominantly a female disease. After all, only one percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are men.
For another, breast cancer awareness month is associated with bras and the color pink — both of which are aimed at the female population.
In an interview, Harvey Singer discusses his battle with breast cancer — and also battling the stigma with having a “female” disease.
He noted that while he was undergoing chemotherapy, he searched for support groups of other men battling breast cancer and couldn’t find any. He has since created a support group, called HIS Breast Cancer Awareness, which aims not only to be a support for men with breast cancer, but also to “…make male breast cancer more of a conversation.”