What you need to know about male breast cancer

You asked: Can men develop breast cancer?

Yes—Men do get breast cancer and here’s what you should know
October 26, 2016

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with roughly 12 percent of American women developing invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. And although the risk is very low for most men—women are approximately 100 times more likely to develop it—there are approximately 2,500 new cases of male breast cancer diagnosed each year. Here’s what a Texas A&M College of Medicine radiation oncologist wants you to know about breast cancer in men.

What are the symptoms?

Everyone is born with breast tissue, but women develop more when they go through puberty, whereas men develop high testosterone and low estrogen levels that stop breast development. However, breast tissue still exists, opening the possibility for the disease in men.

“There is no difference between the type of breast cancer found in women and that found in men,” said Niloy J. Deb, MD, assistant professor of radiology at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and chairman and medical director of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Baylor Scott & White Health in Temple. “The most common type of breast cancer in women is invasive ductal carcinoma and that is the same men.”

In some cases, the first sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass in the breast that you or your health care provider can feel. The following changes in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer:

  • swelling of the breast
  • skin irritation or dimpling
  • breast or nipple pain
  • redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • a lump in the underarm
What are risk factors for men?

The odds may be slim, but it’s still important for men to understand their personal risk of developing breast cancer.

“The biggest risk factor will be how common breast cancer is in your family,” Deb said. “If you are looking through your family history on your mother’s side and begin seeing that breast cancer is very common, then it may be possible for you to develop the disease.”

Besides family history, other risk factors for breast cancer include age, medical conditions and being overweight.

“The odds will still be small for men to develop breast cancer, but the same risk factors that apply for women apply to men,” Deb said. “Any situation that increases estrogen—by way of illness, weight issues or hormone replacement—can increase the risk of breast cancer.”

Certain conditions that can increase estrogen, a female sex hormone that can promote breast cancer cell growth, include cirrhosis of the liver, Klinefelter syndrome and a mutated BRCA2 gene.

Being overweight may also raise estrogen levels and thus risk for breast cancer. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), more than two in three adults are considered to be overweight or obese, and more than one in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.

“Obesity leads to increased estrogen because fatty tissue converts excess androgens, like testosterone, to estrogen,” Deb said. “Maintaining a healthy weight is important because overweight men and women are producing more estrogen which increase their risk of breast cancer.”

Should I be concerned about breast cancer?

The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is genetics, and if breast cancer isn’t extremely prevalent in your family tree, the likelihood of you, as a man, developing breast cancer is relatively small.

If breast cancer does run in your family, and especially if it is common on your mother’s side, then discussing concerns with your primary care provider is beneficial. Also, if your family has a history of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), then a family history of ovarian cancer may increase a man’s risk for breast cancer.

“Because detecting breast cancer in its early stages is critical, it’s important to keep an open discussion with your primary care provider about your concerns,” Deb said. “If you see a nodule or small ulcer or dry patch of skin around your nipple, then you should be checked right away.”

If you and your health care provider are worried about your odds of developing breast cancer, then screening may be a good option to try and catch it early. If you do develop breast cancer, the prognosis is good, especially when caught early, as scientific developments have greatly improved life expectancy after diagnosis.

“In general, breast cancer treatment has been revolutionized in the last 30–40 years,” Deb said. “Promptness is key, and women and men with early stage breast cancer are given excellent chances of living long normal lives.”

— Dominic Hernandez

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