Men Get Breast Cancer Too

Breast cancer is not just a women's disease. Men get breast cancer too.

Male breast cancer is rare - accounting for only one percent of all breast cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 1,910 new cases in 2009 and 440 men will die of the disease.

Although it appears primarily in men between the ages of 60 and 70, male breast cancer can occur in at any age.

Lack of knowledge about the disease has led to diagnosis at more advanced stages.

As a result, there has been a push to inform men about the disease and its symptoms. Several famous male breast cancer survivors have worked to increase awareness, including former Massachusetts senator Edward W. Brooke and Shaft actor Richard Roundtree.

Early detection is the key to breast cancer survival.

Signs of male breast cancer include:

  • Abnormal lumps or swelling in the breast, nipple or chest muscle.
  • Skin dimpling or puckering.
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin.
  • Nipple discharge.

The causes of male breast cancer are not fully known, but it is thought to be related to environmental and genetic factors.

Risk factors include:

  • Radiation exposure (previously undergoing radiation therapy in the chest area).
  • High levels of estrogen (conditions in which men have abnormally high estrogen levels include Klinefelter's syndrome, cirrhosis of the liver and obesity)
  • Family predisposition (men who have several female family members with breast cancer, especially those who have inherited the BRCA-2 gene).

Men have minimal breast tissue, so lumps can easily be felt and biopsied.

The most common type of breast cancer in men, as with women, is infiltrating ductal carcinoma. This type of cancer starts in the breast ducts and spreads beyond them into surrounding tissue.

Some 85 percent of male breast cancers have estrogen receptors on their cell membranes, allowing estrogen molecules to bind to the cancer cells - stimulating cell growth.

Fine needle aspiration or needle biopsy are the most often used diagnostic tools. Other techniques include biopsies that remove a part of the suspicious tissue or the total mass. When there is nipple discharge, a smear examination may also be used.

Once a diagnosis is made, imaging studies may be ordered to make sure that the cancer has not spread.

Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. Stages are the same for men as for women.

The most common surgical treatment for male breast cancer is a modified radical mastectomy. On occasion, portions of chest wall muscles are also removed.

Other Treatments
Additional treatments are often prescribed, especially when the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormone therapy

For more information about male breast cancer, visit:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure
American Cancer Society
Mayo Clinic
National Cancer Institute
Susan G. Komen Greater New York City

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