Breast cancer is more prevalent in women, but men can develop breast cancer, too. Men have breast tissue and they can develop breast cancer just like women. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and can spread to other areas. Breast cancer starts when one cell doesn’t replicate correctly and begins to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumor that can be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. The tumor is malignant if the cells grow and invade surrounding tissues or metastasize to other areas of the body.
During puberty both young males and females have a small amount of breast tissue consisting of a few ducts located under the nipple and areola, which is the area around the nipple. At puberty, a female’s ovaries make female hormones, causing their breast ducts to grow and lobules to form at the ends of ducts. Even after puberty, males normally have low levels of female hormones preventing breast tissue from growing. A man’s breasts have ducts, but only a few if any lobules.
Benign breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they don’t spread outside of the breast and are not life threatening. All breast lumps or changes need to be checked by a doctor to determine whether it is benign or malignant and whether it will impact your future cancer risk.
Men that develop breast cancer don’t do as well as women that develop breast cancer. Studies show that men don’t get the standard treatment that women get.
Men can also have some benign (not cancerous) breast disorders. Gynecomastia is the most common male breast disorder. It’s not a tumor but an increase in fatty tissue of a man’s breast. Most men don’t have enough breast tissue to be felt or seen. Gynecomastia can appear as a bubble-like growth under the nipple and areola, which can be felt and sometimes seen. Some men have severe gynecomastia, which may appear as small breasts. Gynecomastia is much more common than breast cancer in men and both can be felt as a growth under the nipple. In either case it’s important to have any lumps checked by your doctor. Gynecomastia is more common in teenage boys because their balance of hormones changes during adolescence. It is also common in older men due to changes in their hormone balance caused by age. Obesity can also cause gynecomastia in men. Medications can cause gynecomastia. Drugs used to treat ulcers and heartburn, high blood pressure, heart failure, and psychiatric conditions can cause gynecomastia. Steroid use will cause gynecomastia. Men with gynecomastia should ask their doctors if any medicines they are taking might be causing this condition.
Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer include:
• A painless lump or thickening in your chest tissue
• Changes to the skin covering your chest, such as dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling
• Changes to your nipple, such as redness or scaling, or a nipple that begins to turn inward
• Discharge from your nipple
Most man under age 35 don’t develop breast cancer. A man’s chance of getting breast cancer goes up as they age. Most breast cancers happen to men between ages 60 and 70.
Your risk for male breast cancer increases if you have:
• Breast cancer in a close female relative
• History of radiation exposure of the chest
• Enlargement of breasts (called gynecomastia) from drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons
• Taking estrogen
• A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome
• Severe liver disease, called cirrhosis
• Diseases of the testicles such as mumps orchitis, a testicular injury or an undescended testicle
Doctors use the same techniques for men they used to diagnose breast cancer in women. This includes a physical exams, mammography, and biopsies which exams small samples of tissue under a microscope.
The same treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy are the standard ways to treat breast cancer. Men with breast cancer tend to respond much better to hormone therapy than women. 90% of male breast cancers have hormone receptors, which means that hormone therapy can work in most men to treat the cancer.
There are a few changes you can make to reduce your risk:
Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, which include beer, wine or liquor, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
Control your percentage of body fat. If you are overweight or obese you increase the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if body fat is a factor later in life.
Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help you maintain a low body fat content, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. Healthy adults should work out everyday. Strength training exercises should be done at least three times a week. If you’re just starting, start slowly and build on intensity gradually.
Avoid exposure to environmental pollution. Avoid exposure to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in vehicle exhaust, secondhand smoke, cleaning chemicals, dry cleaning flumes and other air pollution.
Other ways of avoiding environmental pollution include:
Carry your own glass, steel or ceramic water bottle filled with filtered tap water.
Reduce how much canned food you eat and how much canned formula your baby uses.
Use baby bottles with labels that say “BPA free.”
Avoid handling carbonless copy cash register receipts.
Don’t cook food in plastic containers or use roasting/steaming bags; the plastic residues may leach into food when heated in a regular or microwave oven.
Use glass, porcelain, enamel-covered metal, or stainless-steel pots, pans and containers for food and beverages whenever possible, especially if the food or drink is hot.
Recycling symbol 1 is also OK to use, but shouldn’t be used more than once (no refilling those store-bought water bottles!). Keep all plastic containers out of the heat and sun.
Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet will help you maintain a healthy body fat level.
Eat small portions (no more than 6 to 7 ounces a day) of lean meat or poultry.
Remove the skin and fat from meat, poultry and fish.
Eat lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Eat at least 3 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables each day and 4 ounces or more of whole grains.
Drink water or low-calorie drinks
Breast cancer is not a death sentence and neither are the treatments. If you’re dealing with someone who has breast cancer be supportive and don’t forget that magic word love.