Breast Cancer When You Don’t Have Breasts?!

Breast cancer is all around us.  We see it on our newly diagnosed friend.  We see it on our mother, a fifteen year survivor.  We see our child’s teacher winning her battle against the disease.  We see it in men.  Yes!  I said men. It’s No Shave November – there’s no better time to talk about male breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in the year 2015, there will be approximately 2,350 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men.  In addition to that, about 440 men will die from their breast cancer diagnosis.  Though these numbers are small compared to the numbers of women receiving their breast cancer diagnosis, these are still numbers that we cannot forget.


Did you know . . .

  • Both boys and girls begin life with similar breast tissue. In girls, their tissue grows and develops at puberty, but the boys do not.  In retrospect, the breasts of an adult male are very similar to those of a prepubescent girl.
  • Diagnosing techniques, treatments, and survival rates all mirror those of their female counterparts. However, men are often diagnosed at a later stage.  This may be due to the lack of awareness on their part that they are still at risk, self-checking, or that they don’t recognize the warning signs until the cancer is at a later stage of development.
  • The potential warning signs of breast cancer are as follows:
    • A hard knot or thickening in the breast, chest or underarm area, usually painless but may be tender to the touch
    • The size and shape of their breast may change
    • The skin may dimple, pucker, or exhibit redness
    • Scaly, itchy rash on the nipple
    • Nipple discharge or inverted nipple
  • Breast cancer types in men are the same type of breast cancer women get. Most breast cancer will begin in the milk ducts (yes, men have milk ducts), fewer in the lobules.  In rare cases, Paget disease of the breast is a cancer that begins in the milk ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple causing a scaly rash.  Paget disease occurs more often in men than it does in women.
  • Both men and women with an inherited BRCA gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer. The BRCA2 mutation makes up about 40 percent of breast cancer diagnosis in men, while only 5-10 percent in women.  Men with a BRCA2 mutation are at an increased risk of other cancers, particularly prostate cancer.  BRCA1 mutations can also cause breast cancer in men, but the risk is lower.
  • About 1 out of 5 men diagnosed with breast cancer have a close family member with the disease.
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome, a rare condition that occurs when a man is born with two X chromosomes, is related to an increased risk of breast cancer because of the high levels of estrogen.
  • Radiation exposure has been known to cause cancer. A man who has had radiation treatments to the chest area (such as treatment for lymphoma) has an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Image by JD Hancock via Flickr
Image by JD Hancock via Flickr

Breast cancer awareness is often directed towards women.  The emphasis to “check your boobs” on a monthly basis should be directed to both sexes.  Even though the breast cancer statistics are in two different leagues (1 in 1000 men compared to 1 in 8 women), we should still be aware that men are at risk too.  If you have concerns about breast cancer, male or female, please do not hesitate to see your doctor.  Do not delay in seeking treatment; survival rates are at their highest when breast cancer is found early.

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