PERSONALIZED TREATMENT GUIDE
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Male Breast Cancer: Rare But Real
Though breast cancer typically affects women, men also have breast tissue and can have the disease. However, male breast cancer is rare: Each year in the U.S., approximately 2,700 men are diagnosed compared to 270,000 women, so men make up about 1% of all breast cancer cases.
As it does for women, early detection increases treatment options and leads to improved outcomes. With a few exceptions, treatments for men with breast cancer are the same as for women.
For both sexes, the most common breast cancers are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. These types of cancer start in the milk-producing glands (lobules) or in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple. Men have these glands and ducts, although they aren’t normally functional.
Who’s at Risk?
Researchers have discovered risk factors that increase the chance of men developing breast cancer, including:
- Older age
- BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation
- Family history of breast cancer
- Gynecomastia (enlargement of breast tissue)
- Klinefelter’s syndrome (genetic condition characterized by high estrogen levels)
- Radiation exposure
- Liver disease
- Testicular conditions
- Estrogen treatment
- Alcohol consumption
Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean a man will get breast cancer. And, conversely, not having risk factors doesn’t mean he won’t get the disease. As with women, many men who are diagnosed had no apparent risk.
Symptoms to Watch for
Sometimes, men don’t report breast cancer symptoms. They may be embarrassed or believe breast cancer is only a female disease. This can result in later detection and poorer outcomes. Because early detection is critical, all men should be aware of warning signs for breast cancer, which include:
- A lump or swelling
- Skin puckering or dimpling
- Inverted nipple (turned inward)
- Redness or scaling of nipple or skin
- Nipple discharge.
Symptoms may indicate a benign (non-cancerous) condition, but it’s still vital to check out any changes in the chest area, breast or nipple. If you’re concerned about personal risk—your own or a loved one’s—or if symptoms are present, it’s important to see a doctor promptly.
First, the doctor will conduct a physical exam of the breasts and surrounding areas. Imaging tests such as a mammogram (X-ray picture of the breast) or an ultrasound (which uses sound waves to create images) may also be done.
A biopsy—removing a sample of breast cells for testing—will determine whether there is cancer, and if so, the type (invasive or not invasive) and grade (aggressiveness) of the cancer. Further tests to establish the specific characteristics of the cancer and whether it has spread, called staging, might include a CT (computed tomography) scan, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, a PET (positron emission tomography) scan or a bone scan.
How breast cancer is treated depends on its type and stage. Treatment may include one or more of the following:
- Surgery, such as a lumpectomy (removal of the lump) or mastectomy (removal of the breast)
- Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, using one or more anti-cancer drugs
- Hormone therapy, often involving the medication tamoxifen for males
- Targeted therapy using drugs that can destroy the cancer’s specific genes.
After treatment, doctors will monitor the patient closely and recommend a screening schedule. Attending follow-up appointments and making healthy lifestyle choices can lower the risk of recurrence.
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