Male breast cancer: what you need to know
In October, women all over the world are encouraged to examine their breasts and go for mammograms. But what about men? Although breast cancer is 100 times less common among men, research shows that men who get breast cancer have a lower survival rate than women.
Treatment modalities have improved dramatically over the years. The 10-year relative survival rate for women with breast cancer is an encouraging 83%. The 10-year relative survival rate for men is only 72%.
Why is this the case? Men don’t seek medical attention when they feel a lump in their breast tissue. And they only visit the doctor when their symptoms are fairly dramatic, like a bloody discharge from the nipple. As with all cancers, early detection is key to improving chances of survival.
Male vs female breasts
Even though men don’t have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. An adult man’s ‘breasts’ are similar to those of a girl before puberty. In girls, this tissue grows and develops, but in men, it doesn’t. But because it is still breast tissue, men can get breast cancer. Men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, but cancers involving the parts that make and store milk are rare.
What are the risk factors?
Male breast cancer under the age of 35 is rare. The chance of getting breast cancer goes up with age. Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70. Other risk factors for male breast cancer include:
> Exposure to estrogen
If you take estrogen-related drugs, such as those used for hormone therapy for prostate cancer, your risk of breast cancer increases.
> Family history of breast cancer
If you have a close family member with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of developing the disease.
> Liver disease
Certain conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones. This increases your risk of breast cancer.
Fat cells convert androgens into estrogen. A higher number of fat cells in your body may result in increased estrogen and a higher risk of breast cancer.
> Radiation exposure
If you’ve received radiation treatments to your chest, such as those used to treat cancers in the chest, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
> Testicle disease or surgery
Having inflamed testicles (orchitis) or surgery to remove a testicle (orchiectomy) can increase your risk of breast cancer.