Breast cancer in males is a rare occurrence: less than 1% of all breast cancer cases occur in men. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 833. However, just because it is rare doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and learning the facts and statistics about this condition can save lives.
Breast cancer may be considered by most as a female-only disease: after all, men don’t have breasts, right? Well, the truth is, all humans have breast tissue. The hormones in a woman’s body cause the tissue to develop into full breasts, whilst a man’s hormones don’t. Still, variances in hormones can cause men to develop small breasts, which are usually just muscle and fat. If males are taking certain medications or suffer from abnormal levels of hormones, they can develop breasts.
Whether full breasts are developed or not, the breast cells and tissue can still develop cancer. It’s usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola. Mortality rates in male cases of breast cancer are actually higher than in women, mainly due to a lack of awareness - men with lumps in their breasts are unlikely to think it’s breast cancer, which causes a delay in seeking treatment.
That’s why it’s important to educate people on male breast cancer cases and statistics.
Signs and Symptoms
Male breast cancer exhibits the same signs and symptoms as breast cancer in women: a lump or unusual growth in the breast.
“If you notice anything strange about your breast tissue, you should go to the doctors immediately,” says Harry Monroe, a health writer at Boomessays and AustralianHelp. “Survival rates are high for breast cancer, given that it is detected early enough.”
The Risk Factors
The risk factors for male breast cancer are varied, but it’s important to understand them given that men are not usually routine-tested for the disease.
Some of the factors are:
Age: just as in women, the older a man is the more likely he is to be diagnosed with breast cancer. The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is 68 years old.
High estrogen levels: breast cell growth is caused by the presence of estrogen. Men can have unusually high amounts of estrogen as a result of medications, weight gain, being exposed to estrogens through food like beef, being heavy users of alcohol which limits the bodies ability to regulate estrogen levels, and liver disease.
Klinefelter syndrome: men with this condition have lover levels of male hormones (androgens) and higher levels of female hormones (estrogen). This puts them at a higher risk of developing non-cancerous breast tissue growth (gynecomastia) which can lead to cancerous growths. This condition is present at birth and affects around 1 in 1,000 men, causing men to have longer legs, higher voices, thinner beards, smaller testicles and being infertile.
Family history: a family history of breast cancer makes it possible that a male will also have the condition, particularly if another man in his family had breast cancer. Genetic testing is useful for this, but many male breast cancer cases happen as a result of environmental factors to men who don’t have a family history of breast cancer.
Radiation exposure: radiation, particularly to the chest, increases the risk of breast cancer forming.
“Genetic testing can be used to screen if a male is likely to develop breast cancer,” says Leona Ayers, a journalist at State Of Writing and Oxessays. “Treatment outcomes depend largely on the stage of detection, and if people are tested early by genetics consultants, the disease can be discovered in its early stages.”
If a man tests positive for a defective gene like BRCA1 or BRCA2, this suggests he will develop breast cancer, as will his children who have a 50% chance of carrying the defective gene.
A male child of someone with breast cancer with the BRCA2 gene has a 6% chance of developing breast cancer, and a 1% chance with the BRCA1 gene.
In comparison, a female child with the defective gene has between a 40-80% chance of developing breast cancer.
Men with genetic predisposition to breast cancer are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.