By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy
Many people encounter breast pain every day, both men and women, However, where women may fear breast cancer, it is a common misconception that males can’t get breast cancer, so many men ignore the pain. Although rare, men can also contract breast cancer, which can sometimes be the cause of the discomfort they’re experiencing. Here are a few questions and answers that address the issue of male breast cancer.
How Rare is Breast Cancer in Men?
The term “rare” is a very loose one. However, in terms of breast pain men undergo, breast cancer is very low on the list of causes. Despite these good odds, it is still on the list, meaning there is a possibility. For every 130 women who contract breast cancer, only one man will be diagnosed. This is still a substantial number, with 2,190 men per year being diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. alone.
What Are the Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer?
The biggest risk factor, as with women, is age, with most men diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 70. A history of cancer, high estrogen levels, previous exposure to radiation, Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and obesity are also risk factors for breast cancer in men. If you are experiencing breast pain and feel that you fit into several of these categories, you should visit your doctor for testing.
DID YOU KNOW?
Men with Klinefelter’s Syndrome are 20 times more likely to contract breast cancer than the average man. The reason for this is because Klinefelter’s Syndrome is associated with high estrogen levels.
What Symptoms Should you Look out For?
Despite common misconceptions, breast pain is not usually a clear symptom of breast cancer but should be checked out just in case. More likely symptoms of breast cancer in men include painless lumps in the breast or under the arm, retracted nipples, blisters under the skin, oozing from the nipples, and swollen breasts. Ulcers under the skin are also a rare but important symptom. These symptoms are very similar to women’s symptoms but can be harder to pick up in men, as the breasts are less predominant.
How is Breast Cancer in Men Diagnosed?
The diagnosis process is similar for men and women. Doctors may pick it up using an ultrasound scan or a mammogram. If either of these shows potential cancerous lumps, the doctor will take a sample for a biopsy to determine its nature. If you do have breast cancer, further tests will be done. These will determine the strain of breast cancer and also whether or not the cancer has spread. The results will be used to determine the best course of action for treatment.
What Options are Available for Treatment?
As with most types of cancer, treatment for breast cancer in men is determined by the stage the affected area is in. The stage is determined by the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatments for early stages of cancer include hormone therapy, surgery, and biological therapy. Surgery may mean removal of the whole breast area, including the nipple and sometimes underlying muscle, or removal of the lymph nodes if the breast cancer is invasive. For advanced or aggressive stages of breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are usually employed.
Although rare, it is important that men experiencing breast pain or who have found an unidentifiable lump understand that breast cancer is a possibility. Despite being more frequent in those with high risk factors, such as high estrogen levels and a family history of breast cancer, most people can be at risk without knowing it. It is vital that men who feel they may have some of the symptoms seek medical advice and ask for testing, especially if they’re high-risk candidates. However, don’t panic; early diagnosis and proper treatment mean the prognosis can look bright.
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