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The Facts About Men and Breast Cancer

Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017
Men Get Breast Cancer

While it is rare, men can get breast cancer. Learn more from our expert, Donna Angotti, MD.

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. In the United States there are about 2,140 new cases per year with 450 deaths.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Up to 20% of men have been treated with lumpectomy (removal of a tumor from the breast) followed by radiation therapy, with no local recurrences being reported after five years. Lymph nodes are evaluated and might be biopsied.

Radiation therapy after lumpectomy may be recommended to reduce the risk of local recurrence. 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.

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, the experts at Doylestown Health are your resource for total breast health.

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