Men, it’s high time we talk about breast cancer. Yes, it’s rare, but that doesn’t mean it happens only to women. Male breast cancer is a disease that affects a significant number of men.
Everyone assumes breast cancer is a woman’s problem. But this is a stereotype. A recent study found that male breast cancer has increased in occurrence by 25% in the last 25 years. Even though the breast shape, form, composition, and function greatly vary among the two genders, one thing that is common between them is breast tissues. When a malignant tumor forms in the tissues of the breast, cancer starts to grow and can affect men, too. It is even more worrisome if the cells metastasize and spread without any control. Breast cancer is often seen in men who have crossed the age of 50, unlike female breast cancer, which can occur in women at any age.
The exact cause of this disease is not known. Still, factors like family history, radiation exposure, and hormonal imbalance could contribute to a person developing cancer cells in their breast. The reason why most breast cancers in men go undetected is because of indifference. Men think they can’t get this disease because it’s a women-centric issue and don’t go in for medical examinations.
Another significant difference between men and women regarding breast cancer is hormone receptors. Women’s risk of developing this cancer doubles when their body comes in contact with hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This is one of the most common causes in women. On the contrary, the role of these hormones is unclear in men.
Symptoms and signs of male breast cancer
Here are the potential warning signs and symptoms:
The most common symptom of this kind of cancer is a lump or swelling in the breast tissue. This lump is usually painless, and it appears right below the nipple. While many breast lumps in men are benign, any new or unusual lump should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Changes in the nipple
Nipple changes can be a warning sign. They vary from person to person. Sometimes, the nipple will turn inward, known as nipple retraction, or outward (nipple inversion). Other times, the nipple will have extreme redness and scaling.
Clear or bloody discharge from the nipple, which could happen spontaneously or when the nipple is squeezed, is also one of the symptoms of male breast cancer.
Changes in the skin
Skin changes like dimpling, puckering, or skin redness are more signs of breast cancer in men. In addition, sometimes, the skin might resemble the texture of an orange peel.
Pain and swelling
Breast cancer in men, in rare cases, can cause tenderness or pain in the nipple or breast area. Furthermore, swelling or enlargement of one breast, without a similar change in the other breast, can be a significant sign of breast cancer.
Risk factors for male breast cancer
Several risk factors can increase the risk of male breast cancer. These include:
- Old age: The risk of breast cancer usually increases with age. Breast cancer in men is most frequently found in men between 60 and 70.
- Family history: If you have had close relatives, especially first-degree relatives like a mother, sister, or daughter, who have/had breast cancer, it can increase the risk. That’s why it’s crucial to go for examinations now and then.
- Inherited DNA changes: Inherited mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 significantly increase men’s risk of breast cancer. Mutations in other genes like PALB2 and PTEN also increase the risk.
- Radiation exposure: If you were previously exposed to radiation treatment near the chest area, especially during childhood or adolescence, this increases the risk of developing breast cancer in older age.
- Klinefelter Syndrome: Klinefelter syndrome is a genetic condition in which a male is born with an extra X chromosome (XXY). This syndrome affects the development of the testicles, resulting in hormonal imbalance. Therefore, men with this syndrome sometimes have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
- Other testicular conditions: Some conditions affecting the testicles, such as undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) or inflammation of the testicles (orchitis), can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Liver disease: Certain liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, can change estrogen metabolism in the male body and raise the risk of breast cancer.
- Estrogen exposure: Long-term exposure to estrogen can increase the risk. This can happen in conditions like gynecomastia, an abnormal breast enlargement in men. Additionally, estrogen therapy for prostate cancer is also a potential risk factor.
- Obesity: Being obese is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer in men, possibly due to increased estrogen levels in fatty tissues.
- Consuming alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in men.
Diagnosis of male breast cancer
Here are some ways this disease is diagnosed:
If you notice any signs or symptoms of breast cancer, book an appointment with a doctor. You can opt for a clinical examination wherein they will conduct a physical examination to check for lumps, nipple discharge, or other abnormalities.
Imaging tests include mammograms, ultrasounds, or MRI scans. They are done to visualize the breast tissue and identify any suspicious areas where the cancer tumor may be growing.
If a suspicious lump or abnormality is found, a biopsy is performed. A tissue sample is removed and examined to determine the likelihood of cancer and, if so, what type it is.
Lymph node biopsy
If cancer is detected, a biopsy of nearby lymph nodes might be performed to see if it has metastasized.
After diagnosis, the cancer is staged to determine its extent, which helps guide treatment decisions.
Treatment of male breast cancer
Before we delve deeper into the treatment options, we must understand that treatments depend on the type and stage of cancer and the patient’s overall health and preferences. Listed below are some common ways breast cancer in men is treated:
This is the most common treatment for a person with breast cancer. The doctors perform a surgical procedure to remove the tumor. This could involve lumpectomy, where they remove the lump entirely, or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). In some cases, the lymph nodes get removed as well.
Once the surgery is done and it is successful, radiation therapy is recommended to kill any remaining cancer cells. This is done to reduce the risk of the cancer cells forming again in the breast.
If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, hormone therapy might be prescribed. This therapy blocks hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which fuel some types of breast cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or stop their growth. It might be recommended if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other body parts.
Targeted drugs don’t entirely aim to get rid of cancer. Instead, these drugs focus on specific abnormalities within cancer cells. They might be used if the cancer is HER2-positive, a genetic mutation.
Participation in clinical trials might be an option, giving access to experimental treatments that could be more effective than standard therapies.
Living with male breast cancer
Living with male breast cancer can be highly challenging. Still, when you have supportive people around you, your life will become easier. You will be able to maintain a good quality of life. If you are looking for some tips on how to support a friend who is battling breast cancer or if you are seeking some tips for yourself, we are here to help:
- Ensure you seek emotional support from friends, family, support groups, or therapists. Sharing your feelings and fears can alleviate emotional burdens and provide a sense of understanding and connection.
- Go for regular medical check-ups, as they are crucial for monitoring your health post-treatment. Follow the recommended schedule for doctor visits, tests, and screenings.
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle. This will improve your overall well-being. You can start by following a balanced diet, exercising, and minimizing tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.
- If your friend or a family member is facing this situation, try to be supportive by educating yourself about their condition. Understand their diagnosis, treatment options, and potential side effects.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your healthcare team and loved ones. Let them know how you feel physically and emotionally so they can offer appropriate support.
- If and when needed, seek assistance for practical matters like transportation to medical appointments or financial support. There are organizations and resources available to help cancer patients with these challenges.
- Set realistic goals for yourself, considering your energy levels and limitations. Celebrate small victories, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.
also know about : Financial Planning for Life After Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Male breast cancer can evoke fear and sadness and be traumatic in general. But with hope, everything is possible, including recovery. Educate yourself. Understand the risks, recognize the symptoms, and seek prompt medical attention. Never delay check-ups. If you feel something is wrong, go with your gut feeling and examine yourself.