Breast Cancer in Men

Even though men don’t have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue. In fact, the “breasts” of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts surrounded by breast and other tissue. In girls, this tissue grows and develops in response to female hormones, but in men — who do not secrete the same amounts of these hormones — this tissue doesn’t develop.

However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers that women do, although cancers involving the milk producing and storing regions of the breast are rare. An estimated 2,190 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2012.

Why Don’t I Hear About Breast Cancer in Men as Much as I Hear About Breast Cancer in Women?

Breast cancer in men is uncommon. This is possibly due to their smaller amount of breast tissue and the fact that men produce less hormones such as estrogen that are known to affect breast cancers in women.

In fact, only about 1 in 100 breast cancers affect men and only about 10 men in a million will develop breast cancer.

Which Men Are More Likely to Get Breast Cancer?

It is rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer. The likelihood of a man developing breast cancer increases with age. Most male breast cancers are detected between the ages of 60 to 70 years. Other risk factors of male breast cancer include:

Family history of breast cancer in a close female relative.
History of radiation exposure of the chest.
An abnormal enlargement of breasts (called gynecomastia) in response to drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons.
A rare genetic condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome.
Severe liver disease.
Diseases of the testicles such as mumps orchites, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle.

How Serious Is Breast Cancer in Men?

Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was a more severe disease than it was in women, but it now seems that for comparably staged breast cancers, men and women have similar outcomes.

The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of an abnormality in that area. In addition, their small amount of breast tissue is harder to feel — making it more difficult to catch these cancers early, and allowing tumors to spread more quickly to the surrounding tissues.

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men?

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are very similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. However, unlike women, men tend to go to the doctor with more severe symptoms that may include bleeding from the nipple and abnormalities in the skin above the cancer. At that point the cancer may have already spread to the lymph nodes.


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