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The Facts About Men and Breast Cancer

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Men Get Breast Cancer

While it is rare, men can get breast cancer. Learn more from our experts, Donna Angotti, MD and Michele Kopach, MD.

What do an NFL full back, a legendary rock star, a U.S. senator, and an iconic game show announcer have in common other than being in the limelight? Ernie Green of the Cleveland Browns, Peter Criss from KISS, Rod Roddy the announcer from The Price is Right, and Edward Brooke, the first African-American U.S. Senator, all had male breast cancer.

"Breast cancer in men is more common than people think," says radiologist and breast cancer expert Michele Kopach, MD. "Because it is so common in females it has become synonymous with women, but men have breast tissue, too."

Read on to learn more about what men should know about breast cancer.

Do Men Really Have Breasts?

Men have breast tissue that usually does not undergo development because most men lack the ratio of female-type hormones to stimulate this tissue. When hormonal levels fluctuate in life, particularly in adolescence, many young males will undergo temporary stimulation and enlargement of breast tissue behind the nipples that is frightening to them. A breast specialist can rule out any underlying serious condition and then reassure the patient and his family that the tissue will shrink once hormonal balance returns.

How Common Is Breast Cancer in Men?

Breast cancer in men is rare, but it does happen.  The American Cancer Society estimates for breast cancer in men in the United States for 2019 are: About 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed and about 500 men will die from breast cancer. 

"Male breast cancer is rare, but still represents 1% of breast cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States," says Donna Angotti, MD, director of Doylestown Health's Breast Center.

What Are a Man's Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?

Men share a number of risk factors for breast cancer with women, including family history, Jewish origin, obesity, low exercise activity and prior radiation to the chest wall. There are also risk factors unique to men, including never having been married, testicular issues (undescended testes), liver issues (cirrhosis, alcoholic liver disease and schistosomiasis-a parasitic infection), and gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men).

Men who take estrogen have higher rates of breast cancer as well. Men with Klinefelter Syndrome in which they have an extra female chromosome (such as XXY) have a higher rate of breast cancer, however it still does not meet the rate in females.

Men with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at higher risk of getting male breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma skin cancer. The need for individual testing can be evaluated through the Cancer Risk and Genetics Program.

Doylestown Health patients have direct access to the Cancer Risk and Genetics Program provided through Jefferson's Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Cancer risk and genetics services are specifically designed for individuals who want information about their personal risk for cancer. The goal is to provide early detection and prevention of cancer in patients and at-risk family members.

What Are Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?

Breast cancer in men usually presents as a painless, firm mass directly behind the nipple. Less commonly, the mass appears in the upper area of the breast.

Male breast cancer can present as a dimpling, crusting, or distortion of the nipple, a mass behind the nipple, or a nipple discharge. If you are male and have any of these symptoms, please consult with your doctor.

How Is Breast Cancer in Men Usually Found?

Typically, the man or his partner will notice changes to the breast area and bring it to a physician's attention. The physician performs an evaluation including a physical exam, mammogram and ultrasound, followed by a tissue biopsy, if appropriate.

Doylestown Health offers a full range of testing options for men.

How Is Male Breast Cancer Treated?

Traditional surgical treatment for breast cancer in women has been mastectomy (removal of the breast). Since male breast cancer is rare and there is limited research on the effectiveness of treatment options, most physicians base their recommendations on the results of studies of female breast cancer.

Breast-conserving surgery is usually not a treatment option for men due to the small amount of tissue located under the nipple in the male breast. However, some men may choose breast-conserving surgical procedures to avoid a mastectomy. The most common form of breast-conserving surgery for men is lumpectomy, in which the surgeon removes only the cancerous breast tissue and a margin of normal tissue around it, sparing the rest of the breast. Patients who choose this treatment generally require radiation therapy to the breast area after surgery.

Lymph nodes are evaluated and might be biopsied. For patients with 3 to 4 positive lymph nodes, radiation after mastectomy may also be recommended.

Medication to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence throughout the body may also be recommended, as it is for female breast cancer treatment. This might include estrogen-blocking medication, growth factor antibodies and chemotherapy agents.

Male breast cancer is usually diagnosed at an early stage and can be associated with high rates of cure.

Any male diagnosed with breast cancer should be referred for genetic testing, as up to 40% carry an identifiable BRCA mutation (an alteration of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that could be inherited and lead to cancer).

Should Men Do Self-Breast Exams Like Women?

Since the risk of male breast cancer is low, routine self-exams are not recommended unless the man suffers from Klinefelter Syndrome. It is recommended, however, that men be aware of their bodies and bring anything unusual they feel to a physician's attention.

Why Don't We Hear More About Male Breast Cancer?

Diseases that are not present to a high degree in a population are not given as much press or attention, but as people take more responsibility for their own health and desire more health-related information, pieces like this can help educate and inform.

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About Doylestown Health's Breast Center

Doylestown Health's Breast Center offers comprehensive breast cancer and well-breast care, close to home. From early detection through advanced screening options like 3D mammography, to complex surgical treatments including nipple-sparing mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, the experts at Doylestown Health are your resource for total breast health. As a member of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Network at Jefferson, Doylestown Health Cancer Institute oncology patients have access to innovative clinical trials, expert second opinions and the latest information in the field of cancer genetics.

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