Breast cancer is a rare disease in men, with only 1% of all breast cancer cases being men. Men do not develop breast cancer at the same rates as women because at puberty, a girl’s hormones produced from her ovaries stimulates the development of her breast ducts (tubes that carry the milk to the nipples) and lobules (milk producing glands). In males, the hormones from his testicles stop the male breast tissue from developing any further. For women, about 80% of non-invasive breast cancers are found in the ducts, which are less developed in men. Additionally, men’s ducts are not constantly being exposed to female hormones that have growth producing effects on breast cells[i]. However, when a man is diagnosed with breast cancer, it is generally at a later stage than most women, resulting in poorer survival outcomes. It is believed that most men do not respond to breast changes or recognize the symptoms of breast cancer, as most women have been taught to do. Also, the screening tools used for women are not yet encouraged for men and mammograms are not recommended because of the rarity of breast cancer in men. There are no known ways to prevent breast cancer in men or women. Our best defense appears to be early detection, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle to lower the incident and subsequently, improve survival rates. Pay attention to your body and report any breast changes to your doctor.
For 2010, the American Cancer Society reported the following [ii]:
- 1,910 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.
- Close to 400 men will die from breast cancer.
- Men have a 1 in 1000 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.
- The rates of breast cancer have increased by 0.9% per year between 1995 – 2006.
- Because the male breast is much smaller than the female breast, all male breast cancers start relatively close to the nipple, so they are more likely to spread to the nipple.
- African American men have the highest rates of developing breast cancer.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer in men include [iii]:
- Change in size, texture, or appearance of your breast (s)
- Nipple discharge (usually bloody)
- Nipple inversion (inward)
- Skin dimpling or puckering
- Breast lump or swelling
- Local pain, itching and pulling sensation
- Aging – average age of a man diagnosed with breast cancer is 67.
- Family history of breast cancer – About 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer have close male or female relatives with the disease.
- Inherited gene mutations – ACS (2010) reported, “A mutation (change) in the BRCA2 gene, which is responsible for some breast cancers in women, probably accounts for about 1 in10 breast cancers in men. BRCA1 mutations can also cause breast cancer in men, but they seem to be responsible for fewer cases than mutations in the BRCA2 gene. People with these mutations typically have a strong family history of breast cancer, which often appears when they are younger (under 60). Other mutations that may be responsible for some breast cancers in men include those in genes called CHEK2 and PTEN”.
- Klinefelter syndrome – a congenital condition where a male child has more than 1-X (female) chromosome, along with their 1-Y chromosome. Many men have as many as 4-X chromosome, resulting in small testicles that often do not produce sperm cells (infertility). This affects about 1 in 1,000 men. Their extra female chromosomes result in higher levels of estrogen (female hormones), than androgens (male hormones).
- Radiation exposure – exposure of radiation to the chest increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Conditions affecting the testicles – having mumps as an adult, having one or both testicles removed, or undesended testicles could reduce the male hormone levels.
- Liver disease – causes low testosterone levels and higher estrogen levels.
- Estrogen treatment – Some medications for prostate cancer have estrogen and can put men at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. Also, transgendered men taking estrogen as part of their change to become a woman may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Certain occupations – Men working in steel mills with continuous exposure to high temperatures can affect testicles and decrease male hormone levels. Research on long term exposure to gasoline is still being studied.
- Alcohol – Heavy drinking (of alcoholic beverages) increases the risk of breast cancer in men. This may be because of its effects on the liver.
- Obesity – Men who are overweight have higher levels of estrogen, often creating less facial hair and some infertility. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as that of many other diseases and cancers.
- Famous Men diagnosed with Breast Cancer: [v]
- Richard Roundtree – is a television and screen actor. He achieved fame playing John Shaft in 1970s film series Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score (1972), and Shaft in Africa (1973) . Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, and underwent a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy.
- Ernie Green – is a former fullback for the Cleveland Browns. He found a lump in his chest in July, 2005 and later underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy for breast cancer. His two older sisters were also diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Edward Brooke – is the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate when he was elected as a Republican from Massachusetts in 1966. Brooke was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, 2002. He has assumed a national role in raising awareness of the disease among men.
- Peter Criss – is the former drummer of rock band KISS. Criss found a lump in his left nipple in December 2007 and was shocked to find out he had breast cancer. He had treatment for the disease and is now going around bringing awareness to the cause.
- Tucker Melancon – is an American judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Judge Melancon was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer in 2003. He had a mastectomy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The cancer went into remission, but resurfaced three years later. He is now a Board Member of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
- Robert Ray Roddy – of “The Price Is Right” was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001 and breast cancer in 2003. He then became an advocate of the early detection of cancer, saying he could have prevented the progress of the diseases with a colonoscopy and a mammogram. He died on October 27, 2003.
[ii]American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2009-2010. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, Inc.
[iii]National Cancer Institute (2010). General Information about Male Breast Cancer. Bethesda, MD: NCI Office of Communications and Education.
[iv]American Cancer Society (2010). Breast Cancer in Men. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, Inc.
[v] Wikipedia (2010). List of breast cancer patients according to survival status. Retrieved on August 19, 2010 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famous_people_with_breast_cancer.