Breast cancer in men accounts for only 1% of all breast cancers, and it’s 100 times more common in women. While the stats are obviously favourable towards men, they’re by no means off the hook.
Everyone is born with a small amount of breast tissue, in females this develops during puberty under the influence of oestrogen but in men it remains unchanged. As a man ages his risk of developing breast cancer increases, and it is most commonly diagnosed in men over the age of 60.
Other risk factors of male breast cancer include:
- Oestrogen exposure: due to medication (for example treatment for prostate cancer), liver disease (the balance between testosterone and oestrogen is upset), testicular trauma or infection (reduced testosterone levels)
- History of radiation exposure of the chest
- Family history of breast cancer in a close female relative
- A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome
What to look for
The main symptom of breast cancer in men is a hard lump in one of the breasts, usually painless and located beneath the nipple and areola. It’s important to note that the vast majority of breast lumps are due to a common non-cancerous condition called gynaecomastia. Less common symptoms of male breast cancer can affect the nipple, for example nipple retraction, discharge or a hard and inflamed nipple.
How serious is breast cancer in men?
Comparing the same stages, men and women have similar outcomes with breast cancer – the biggest problem being that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This is because although having a smaller amount of breast tissue makes it easier for men to detect an abnormal lump, it also makes it easier for the cancerous cells to spread to the skin and surrounding tissues early on. Coupled with a reduced awareness of the disease in men, diagnosis is often delayed.
Physical examinations, mammography, and biopsies are all ways that doctors will diagnose breast cancer. While surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and endocrine therapy are used to treat breast cancer in both men and women, there is one difference: men with breast cancer respond better to hormone treatments than women do.