Yes, it does happen!
Almost everyone is aware that women can get breast cancer. Did you know that men can get it too? Unfortunately, they can. How can this happen? What symptoms should you look for? How is it treated? Can it be prevented?
While it’s rare, men can be affected by breast cancer. Everyone is born with a small amount of breast tissue and, during puberty, women develop more, but men don’t. Breast tissue contains milk-producing glands, or lobules, ducts that carry the milk to the nipples and fat. The exact cause of breast cancer in men is unknown, but occurs when some of the breast cells rapidly divide compared to normal cells. These cells form a tumor and it can spread to other areas of the body. There are two main types of breast cancer in men. The first, and most common, starts in the milk ducts and is called ductal carcinoma. The second is lobular carcinoma and starts in the milk-producing glands. Since men have less lobules than women, this is less likely to occur. Other types are extremely rare and include Paget’s disease of the nipples and inflammatory breast cancer.
Symptoms of male breast cancer are a painless lump in your breast, thickening of your breast tissue, changes to your skin covering your breast (ex. dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling), changes to your nipple (ex. redness or scaling), your nipple turns inward and/or discharge from your nipple. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor. Certain things can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Just like women, some men inherit mutated genes, such as BRCA2, that increase their risk. Other factors are aging (especially being over the age of 60), exposure to estrogen (often used as a form of treatment for prostate cancer), obesity, liver disease, testicle disease/surgery, family history of breast cancer or having Klinefelter’s syndrome (a genetic condition where boys are born with more than one copy of the X chromosome).
The goal of treating male breast cancer is to remove the tumor and any affected surrounding tissue. There are several ways to accomplish this. Radiation therapy involves high-energy beams of X-rays or protons to kill the cancer cells. Hormone therapy is used when the cancer is sensitive to hormones and involves taking medications, like tamoxifen, to decrease the level of the hormones that are causing the tumor to grow. Typically, once the tumor is small enough, your doctor will perform surgery to remove any remaining cancerous tissue. Your doctor may perform a mastectomy to remove all of the breast tissue, including your nipple and areola, if needed before doing any other forms of treatment. Your doctor might also biopsy nearby lymph nodes to see if your cancer has spread. If no cancer is found, then it’s assumed that your cancer hasn’t spread. If cancer is found, your doctor will test more lymph nodes. After surgery, your doctor might recommend chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. This usually involves taking medications via pills, intravenous (IV) or both.
The other significant component in treating male breast cancer is your support system. This can mean talking to a friend or family member or joining a support group. Some people find prayer, meditation or relaxation exercises helpful. Also, doing activities that require some creativity can provide distraction. Exercising can boost your mood, which will make you feel better. Just be sure to not over do it and check with your doctor first to make sure that it’s okay.
Unfortunately, there’s isn’t a definite way to prevent male breast cancer from occurring. The best thing you can do is avoid things that increase your risk. To do this, you want to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercise frequently, getting enough sleep and avoiding things that can be harmful, like smoking, alcohol and drugs. It’s important to know your family history and if you’re at risk of developing male breast cancer, talk to your doctor about what you should do to minimize your risk.
Being diagnosed with male breast cancer usually comes as a surprise for many men. The good news that there are several treatment options and, if the cancer is caught early, they are quite successful. If you have any questions or concerns about male breast cancer, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s Male Breast Cancer page at https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/male-breast-cancer