Breast Cancer in Men

Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is something most people have never even heard of. The reason why men have breasts in the first place is a mystery to most of us and the fact that they can contract a disease commonly viewed as strictly for women comes as something of a shock.

But breast cancer can and does occur in men. It’s relatively rare (only about one per cent of cases involve men) and the widespread ignorance about it makes it particularly dangerous. As most men and their wives or girlfriends don’t even know the disease exists, male breast cancer is likely to go undetected in its early stages. After all, self-examination, routine mammography and investigative lumpectomy are not familiar terms for your average male.

This means men are far more likely to ignore symptoms than women and many go for months or even years without seeking medical advice. And what’s even more alarming is that many members of the medical profession lack sufficient knowledge of the disease and fail to order the relevant tests when a male patient first complains of breast abnormalities.

Added to this frightening level of ignorance is the perception among men that breast cancer is a “woman’s thing” and that there’s something rather unmanly about a male contracting a disease associated with pink ribbons. All of which makes it more likely that a man will fail to seek advice in the early stages.

But it’s a fact that the number of male cases has risen sharply in recent years and hundreds of men die each year from the disease simply because of a delay in diagnosis and treatment.

As with women, the survival rate among men is extremely good if the disease is detected and treated early enough. That’s why it’s so important to spread the word – men need to know they can contract this disease, they need to overcome any embarrassment they may feel about it and they need to know what the symptoms are.

Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer

The most common symptoms include a lump beneath the nipple (usually painless), a discharge from the nipple (sometimes bloody) or an inversion of the nipple. Redness or puckering of the skin around the nipple and breast area are other signs to look out for. The important thing is to be aware of your own body and if you’re at all worried about any abnormality seek immediate medical advice. And if your health professional doesn’t seem to be taking your concerns seriously then seek a second opinion, preferably from someone who has direct experience of breast cancer in men.

Treatment options are much the same as they are for women. Most cancerous lumps are removed by surgery (yes, men DO have mastectomies!) which may be followed by one or more therapies- chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy - depending on the stage and aggressiveness of the cancer.

Risk factors associated with male breast cancer include:

Age - the average age for men to contract the disease is 65
Family history - men with one or more close female or male relatives who have suffered from the disease are at higher risk
Obesity - some studies have linked breast cancer in men to obesity. Fat tissue produces the female sex hormone oestrogen (estrogen) which in turn can feed cancer cells.

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