Male breast cancer is very real and can be just as life threatening as female breast cancer. Over one thousand men are predicted to be diagnosed with the disease every year. Typically, there is less hope that treatment of male cases of breast cancer will lead to recovery. This is because of the fact that men usually wait longer to report their symptoms than women do, allowing the disease to spread. All men have breast tissue and cancer can form in that tissue. More common in older males, men of any age can get male breast cancer.
Male breast cancer symptoms include:
- A lump, often painless, in the breast tissue.
- Puckering, scaling, redness, or dimpling of the skin that covers the breast.
- Redness of the nipple or other changes in the nipple.
- Nipple discharge.
It is important for men to see their doctor if they notice unusual changes in breast that worry them.
Causes of Male Breast Cancer
The causes of male breast cancer is unclear. Similar to female breast cancer, it happens when certain breast cells grow abnormally, dividing quickly. The dividing and accumulation of those cells create a tumor which may in turn spread to other tissue, lymph nodes, or other body parts.
Types of Male Breast Cancer
- One type of male breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which starts in the milk ducts. It is the most common type.
- Another type starts in the milk-producing glands. This is known as lobular carcinoma and is rare since men do not have many lobules in their breast tissue.
- A third type is, Paget’s disease of the nipple which occurs when cancer starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the nipple.
Breast Cancer Risk
Sometimes men can inherit genes from their parents which increase their breast cancer risk. Usually, genes help prevent breast cancer because they make proteins that prevent cells from growing abnormally. However, when genes have mutated, it puts people at an increased risk for the disease. Other factors which can increase one’s risk of male breast cancer include:
- Older age, specifically 60 to 70 years.
- Men who drink excessive amounts of alcohol have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Men who take drugs with estrogen in them have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Men who have close family members with breast cancer have an increased risk of getting the disease.
- Men who have liver disease risk the chance that their male hormones may have been reduced while female hormones may have been increased. This can increase their risk of breast cancer.
- Men who are obese have an increased risk of breast cancer since more fat cells mean more estrogen, thus more risk of breast cancer.
- Men who have been subjected to radiation exposure are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer.
Seeing the Doctor
If someone notices worrisome symptoms, they should see a doctor. If the doctor suspects breast cancer, they may refer the patient to an oncologist (a doctor specializing in cancer treatment). There are some things a patient should do to prepare for this meeting.
- When scheduling the appointment, verify whether there are any dietary restrictions to take before the appointment for any testing which may occur.
- Record all symptoms they are experiencing, even if they seem unrelated.
- List all medications and vitamins they are taking.
- Write down any questions or concerns.
Diagnosing Male Breast Cancer
Certain tests may be conducted if a doctor suspects breast cancer, including:
- A doctor will use their fingertips to examine the breast tissue for lumps and examine the rest of one’s body to see if the cancer has spread. This is known as a clinical breast exam.
- A doctor may take an x-ray of the patient’s breast tissue, known as a mammogram.
- If there is an abnormality discovered as a result of the mammogram, a breast ultrasound may be performed. Sound waves are used to create images of structures in one’s body.
- If a patient is experiencing nipple discharge, the doctor may test it for cancerous cells by collecting a sample of the discharge and studying it under a microscope.
- A breast biopsy may be taken, by using a needle to take cells from the tissue for testing.
Stages of Breast Cancer
Determining the cancer’s stage also helps determine possible options for treatment.
The stages of male breast cancer are:
- Stage I is when the tumor is less than two centimeters in diameter and has not spread.
- Stage II is when the tumor is up to five centimeters in diameter and may have possibly spread to the lymph nodes. Stage II is also the stage to describe when the tumor is larger than five centimeters but no cancer cells have been discovered in the lymph nodes.
- Stage III is when the tumor could be larger than five centimeters in diameter, involving several lymph nodes.
- Stage IV is the most severe and is when cancer has spread to the brain, lungs, or other organs.
Surgery may be advised to remove the breast tumor and the tissue surrounding it. These procedures include:
- A mastectomy, in which a surgeon removes all of the breast tissue.
- A modified radical mastectomy involves the removal of all of the breast tissue, as well as surrounding lymph nodes. This is the most common amongst men with breast cancer.
- A sentinel lymph node biopsy involves removing one lymph node which is then tested for cancer. If no cancerous cells are found, the chance is good that the breast cancer has not spread past the breast tissue.
Types of Therapy
Four types of therapy often used to kill cancer cells are:
- Radiation Therapy which uses high-energy beams (like x-rays) to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy is a treatment involving the administering of drugs which kill the cancerous cells. Often, two or more drugs are combined and given intravenously, or by the form of a pill, or a combination of the two methods.
- Hormone therapy may be considered if a physician thinks that the cancer uses the body’s hormones to aid in its growth.
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