male breast cancer

Male breast cancer FAQ

Breast cancer in men is a rare occurrence: recent figures demonstrate that while 1 in 8 women can develop breast cancer, only 1 in 1,000 men is likely to contract it over their lifetime. However, due to the stigma associated with contracting something that is typically – and erroneously – seen as a ‘female’ ailment means that men who do contract breast cancer are far less likely to get themselves checked out early enough to get it successfully treated.

While there have been significant advances in encouraging men to be open and aware of other cancers, especially prostate and testicular cancer, the stigmas around breast cancer still persist. It seems that certain men are unaware that, yes, they have breast tissue too, and they need to be as aware of changes in that area as women are. So, let’s break down some of the facts about male breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?

These can include:

  • A hard, painless lump in the breast area
  • A nipple that has inverted
  • Nipple discharge which may or may not be streaked with blood
  • Soreness and/or a rash around the nipple

Please bear in mind that male breast cancer is an extremely rare condition, but it’s always wise to get checked out by your GP if you suffer from any conditions – particularly if you have a lump in the breast area, have nipple discharge and have a close family history of breast cancer.

What are the causes of male breast cancer?

Due to the rare nature of the condition, it has proven difficult to pinpoint clear links between certain behaviours and male breast cancer. However, there are certain clear links, which include;

  • Family history and genes, namely in instances where faulty versions of genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been inherited, which increase the risk of breast cancer
  • The taking of medicines that increase the amount of oestrogen taken into the body, such as hormone treatments which are sometimes used to treat prostate cancer
  • Lifestyle habits that increase oestrogen levels, particularly obesity and developing cirrhosis through drinking
  • Previous exposure to radiotherapy in the chest area

What are the treatments for male breast cancer?

If you are diagnosed with male breast cancer, there are a range of treatments, depending on how advanced the condition is. Possible treatments include a mastectomy, which will remove the affected breast tissue and nipple, and certain glands in the armpit, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Is male breast cancer survivable?

Like other cancers, the answer is yes – as long as the cancer is detected early enough. If caught at an early stage, a full recovery is possible. If the cancer isn’t detected until it has spread beyond the breast, a cure becomes more complicated

The two things that any man needs to take away from this information is that male breast cancer is far rarer than the female variety, and that an awareness of any changes in the area and a willingness to report it to a clinic are absolutely crucial.

Dignicap for prevention of chemotherapy alopecia

Spreading the word about cooling caps

It may be termed as a side-effect amongst the medical community at best – and a necessary evil at worst – but there’s no denying the distress and trauma that is caused by chemotherapy alopecia. Research published by the United States National Library of Medicine found that almost 50 per cent of women named hair loss as the most traumatic aspect of their chemo treatment and for a lot of women, it could even be the step too far that puts them off getting the treatment they desperately need.

Cooling caps or cancer cold caps have been around since the 1970s but recent news from America’s Food and Drug Administration further raises awareness of this hair loss prevention method that many women are unaware exists.

The announcement from the FDA involves something called the DigniCap Cooling System, which aims to minimise chemotherapy alopecia for patients with solid tumours. The FDA granted marketing authorisation of the DigniCap for use in patients with breast cancer in 2015 – and studies of women with breast cancer who used the cap while undergoing chemotherapy demonstrated that more than 66 per cent of them reported losing less than half of their hair.

It pays to keep a cool head

The DigniCap Cooling System is a computer-controlled system used during chemotherapy. A cap worn on the head circulates liquid to cool the scalp during treatment, and the cap is covered by a second cap made from neoprene to hold the cooling cap in place and insulate against cooling loss.
The goal of scalp-cooling is to constrict the blood vessels in the scalp, in order to reduce the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the cells in the hair follicles. Cold temperature also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and slows down cell division, making them less affected by chemotherapy. And although the FDA took pains to point out that the DigniCap may not work with some chemotherapy regimens, it’s a very hopeful development.

If the cap fits…

To back up these claims, another American study found that the use of scalp cooling was associated with reduced hair loss at four weeks after the last dose of chemotherapy among women undergoing non–anthracycline-based chemotherapy for early-stage breast cancer. According to the results, two-thirds of patients reported hair loss of 50 per cent or less in a scalp cooling group when compared to patients who didn’t use the cap, as well as reporting quality-of-life benefits for the scalp cooling group.

However, there were side-effects, including cold-induced headaches and neck and shoulder discomfort, chills, and pain associated with wearing the cooling cap for an extended period of time. It was also noted that the cap may not be appropriate for patients with cold sensitivity or susceptibility to cold-related injuries. The risk of the chemotherapy drug missing an isolated grouping of cancer cells in the scalp because of the cooling cap is rare, the FDA noted, adding that long-term effects of scalp cooling and risk of scalp metastasis have not been fully studied.

The treatment is used approximately 30 minutes before each chemo session, and at certain points during the recovery period. Most patients report that they can tolerate the feeling of a DigniCap session very well, as – after the initial shock of the temperature decrease – the cap gradually ‘defrosts’ back to room temperature, and the temperature never drops below freezing.

breast cancer recovery rates

Socialising boosts your chances of recovery

According to new research conducted by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the University of Oxford which has looked into the social habits – or lack of them – of cancer patients – those that get out and mingle with other people with cancer have better survival prospects than those who do not interact with other sufferers.

The study analysed electronic medical records from 4,691 cancer patients collected between 2000 and 2009 from two major NHS hospitals, an investigation of the time that patients spent with other patients and their five-year survival rate post-chemotherapy was also examined. All patients were undergoing chemotherapy at the time and the average age was 59.8.

You are not alone

The results? Patients undergoing chemotherapy who socialise with other sufferers have a 68 per cent risk of dying within five years, the research claimed. This is compared to a 69.5 per cent risk if patients are isolated from other sufferers during their treatment.

The differences may be slender but, as lead author Jeff Lienert from the National Human Genome Research Institute pointed out, “a two per cent difference in survival might not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty substantial. If you saw 5,000 patients in nine years, that two per cent improvement would affect 100 people.”

So why is there a difference between those who socialise with people under the same predicament, and those who don’t? The researchers behind the study believe that interacting with others during treatment reduces stress levels, which in turn leads to better prospects of survival.

As Mr Lienert said: “When you’re stressed, stress hormones such as adrenaline are released, resulting in a fight or flight response. If you are then unable to fight or fly – such as in chemotherapy – these hormones can build up.”

Don’t skimp on your social life

Furthermore, the researchers claim that visits from non-cancer sufferers has a similar – and possibly even greater – impact on patient survival.

“Positive social support during the exact moments of greatest stress is crucial,” claimed Mr Lienert. “If you have a friend with cancer, keeping him or her company during chemotherapy probably will help reduce their stress. The impact is likely to be as effective, and possibly more effective, than cancer patients interacting with other cancer patients.”

The idea that social interaction can help people undergoing cancer treatment is nothing new, of course: a 2012 study found that patients that maintained strong social ties to family and friends may be better to cope with their struggle physically and mentally, while cutting back on social interaction whilst undergoing treatment could increase the risk of depression.

It’s obviously not possible to continue exactly as normal when undergoing chemo but life as you know it shouldn’t stop completely. You might just need to plan ahead a bit more:

  • if you have an important event coming up, such as a family wedding or anniversary celebration, speak to your specialist about the planning of your chemotherapy sessions
  • rest during the day to have more energy in the evening
  • take anti-sickness tables if a celebratory meal has been planned
  • small amounts of alcohol shouldn’t compromise your chemotherapy but check with your GP first

If you have recently received a cancer diagnosis or are interested in our One-Stop Breast Cancer Service, call 0800 612 9490 or email us on info@thamesbreastclinic.com.

breast cancer chemo

New test for low-risk patients may cut out the chemo

Chemotherapy: we know how effective it can be. But we also know what an ordeal it can be, too. Which is why a recent report published in the journal JAMA Oncology may have extremely positive implications for thousands of breast cancer patients.

According to the report, the University of California have developed a new test – called MammaPrint – for cancer survivors. It examines 70 gene variants in blood and saliva which are known to increase the risk of cancer returning. In other words, it can predict which women are at low risk for years after they have surgery to remove cancerous tumours, which could allow those women – which make up half of early stage breast cancer patients – to avoid the severe physical and emotional traumas which are brought on by breast cancer chemo.

How the MammaPrint test works

Simply put, the MammaPrint test is a test of the genomes – the set of DNA within call of an organism – that has the potential to assess the chances of a recurrence of cancer. A sample of a cancer tumour is analysed to examine how active certain genes are, how the activity levels of the genes are affecting the behaviour of the cancer, and discovering how likely it is to grow and spread. The next stage would involve the doctor factoring in your age, your general health, the size and grade of the cancer and whether cancer cells were found in nearby lymph nodes in order to work out a treatment plan.

The research conducted so far suggests the MammaPrint test may eventually be widely used to help make treatment decisions based on the cancer’s risk of coming back within 10 years after diagnosis.

The end of unnecessary chemo?

Obviously, being able to deduce if a woman has a high or low risk of early-stage breast cancer coming back might be an enormous boon to the decision-making process over whether chemotherapy or other treatments to reduce risk after surgery are needed. Although the common perception is that breast cancer is breast cancer, we know that certain breast cancers pose little or no systemic risk. But the problem is that it’s been very hard to pin down and identify low-risk and high-risk cancers, necessitating a better-safe-than-sorry ethos.

Although the trialling of MammaPrint is still in the early stages, the initial results are very encouraging for both the medical community and those of us who have gone through breast cancer. For the former, a test that can accurately identify a section of women who have very little risk of their cancer recurring means that expensive and intensive treatments such as chemo can be safely factored out. For the latter, the more knowledge available the better – allowing patient and doctor to work out a more personalised therapy programme without unnecessary treatments.

Although the MammaPrint technique is still in its infancy, with no indication as to when it’ll be used in the UK, the study results are extremely encouraging – although it’s worth bearing in mind that the technique can only be used to analyse early-stage breast cancers.

exercise and breast cancer

Simple exercise can fend off breast cancer, claims study

We’re all aware of the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet – even we don’t partake in either. But studies presented at a cancer conference hammered home the point by demonstrating that there is a link between exercise and breast cancer and a healthy fitness regime can improve survival rates for cancer sufferers.

One of the studies, which monitored the habits of 1,000 colon cancer patients, discovered that those who exercised regularly, ate more fruits and vegetables and avoided refined grains and meats had a 42% lower chance of death after seven years.

Another study – of 300 breast cancer survivors, conducted by the Queensland University of Technology – concluded that those who exercised for three hours a week had far better rates of survival than those who were not partaking in an exercise programme, even if the ‘exercise’ was as low-level as a regular walk.

Walk away from increased risk

The 300 subjects, who were six weeks out of surgery, were randomly assigned to groups that received exercise counselling or to a control group. The women who found themselves in the exercise counselling group were encouraged into attaining a simple goal: indulging in exercise for 180 minutes per week, in whatever manner they liked. Unsurprisingly, most chose the simplest, cheapest and easiest option: to walk.

After a median follow-up of roughly eight years, researchers discovered that 5.3% of the women who had received exercise counselling had died, versus 11.5% of those who had not. Similarly, 12.1% of women in the group that received exercise counselling had a recurrence of cancer, versus 17.7% of those who did not. Clearly, as the researchers pointed out at the conference, an exercise programme after treatment “has clear potential to influence survival”.

The colon cancer study – although specialising in a different form of cancer – also points the way for increased survival rates amongst women who have dealt with breast cancer, as it aimed to test whether the American Cancer Society’s dietary and exercise guidelines – which recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, sticking to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy body weight – had any bearing on survival rates.

The results revealed a surprisingly strong link between a healthy diet and exercise regime and lowered mortality. Even the colon cancer survivors who drank moderately while following other guidelines had a 42% lower chance of dying than those that did not.

Food for thought

While we need to make clear that the majority of research into the influence of diet on breast cancer has produced findings which are inconclusive and inconsistent, there’s a lot to be said for cutting processed foods and red meat out of your diet and mixing in things like dark, leafy vegetables, olive oil, and fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. For a full breakdown of what’s good and what isn’t – as well as an examination of a food myth or two – the Cancer Research website has a comprehensive list of dietary dos and don’ts.

 

breast cancer and alcohol

Breast cancer and alcohol: is it time for last orders?

You’ve probably seen the report which has flying all over social media over the past month: the study conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund which claimed that half a glass of wine (or a half of beer, or anything that constitutes 1.25 units of alcohol) increases the risk of breast cancer.

The report – created by a non-profit medical body which continuously reviews the global evidence on the links between breast cancer and diet, weight and exercise – claimed that for each 10g of pure alcohol consumed per day, the risk of premenopausal breast cancer increases by 5%, and the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer increases by 9%. We’ve already discussed the plethora of food scares that generate clicks and sell newspapers in a previous post, but alcohol is a far more known quantity in the world of medical research.

The link between breast cancer and alcohol

Sadly, it’s an established fact that alcohol causes 4% of cancers in the UK, and is the direct cause of roughly 12,800 cases of cancer in this country every year. Regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers, liver cancer and bowel cancer – and there is a clear link between breast cancer and alcohol. The nature of your consumption has nothing to do with it: people who drink a small amount on a daily basis run the same risk as heavier weekend and special-occasion drinkers.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a side-effect when we consume alcohol: our bodies convert it into a chemical known as acetaldehyde. It’s something that occurs naturally in ripe fruit, bread and coffee, and it’s also the element that causes hangovers. In minor quantities, it’s broken down naturally by the body, but there’s a chance that it can cause cancer by damaging DNA and preventing cells from repairing the damage.

Should you go on the wagon?

So, the only logical thing for people to do is to clear out their drinks cabinets and avoid the wine bars, right? Well, a lot of experts – including the people who launched the study – aren’t as militant about the subject as you’d think. As Sarah Toule, the WCRF’s Head of Health Information, points out; “With social drinking so ingrained in British culture, we realise that giving up might not be realistic for everyone. If you do choose to drink, you should at least try to reduce your intake.”

Other experts claim that the study is telling us nothing we don’t already know – that, like practically everything else we eat and drink, there is an element of risk, and the onus is on the individual, while some are pointing out that the report does not provide absolute risks and – as such – is not solid and inarguable proof that women should go teetotal.

When it comes to breast cancer, there are many different factors which could cause a person to develop it, and some such as genetics and family history are impossible to control. Our advice: by all means be aware of what causes cancer and consider lifestyle changes such as being physically active, controlling your weight and limiting your alcohol intake that can help reduce the risks.

Breast cancer and breast size

Breast cancer and breast size

Here’s a recent news story which caught our attention: a Mexican woman who reported a lump in her breast and reported it to her doctor, who told her that not only was she ‘too young’ to contract breast cancer (at 27!), but her breasts were also too small.

The former is clearly nonsense, but the latter is an incredibly dangerous assumption. Sure enough, she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later, and underwent a double mastectomy.

We like to think that our own healthcare system is considerably more enlightened, but the idea that larger breast size = larger risk of breast cancer has been reported in the media. So let’s look at it in further detail.

When scientific reports become news headlines

The main source in this way of thinking about breast cancer and breast size stems from a study conducted in 2012 by an American genetics company which examined the DNA of over 16,000 women. The study was actually focussed upon the genetic factors underlying breast development, and sought to identify specific gene variations which were associated with breast size. And of the seven variants they discovered, three were also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

The study went to great pains to point out that these three variations do not automatically translate into increased rates of breast cancer: as we all know, breast cancer is a very complex ailment with a plethora of factors involved. But that doesn’t make for a good newspaper headline, so when the mainstream media jumped upon the study, it got boiled down to something like this. Which wasn’t the intention at all.

Is there a link between breast cancer and breast size?

On the surface, this opinion has an element of common sense about it: if you’ve got more tissue in a certain area, you’d assume that there would be a greater risk of developing cancer there. But there are multiple factors that we know for a scientific fact can increase the risk of breast cancer, including ethnicity, age, family history, oestrogen levels, whether a woman has been through the menopause or not, breastfeeding factors, general body health and lifestyle factors.

And thus far, there is no clear link between larger cup size and increased risk of breast cancer, and the idea that women with smaller breasts or ‘flat-chested’ women are at a reduced or zero risk of contracting breast cancer is completely wrong. If you have breast tissue – and you do, whatever cup size you take – the possibility of contracting breast cancer is there.

The moral of the story? No matter what your cup size, you need to keep tabs on your breasts. If you’re over 50, ensure you’re getting screened for breast cancer – and if you’re under 50 and you feel you may be contracting the symptoms of breast cancer or just want to be reassured, don’t hesitate to visit your GP at the first opportunity.

male breast cancer Thames Valley

Understanding male breast cancer

The first thing that needs to be said about male breast cancer is that, yes, it happens. And it happens more often than you think. While cases of breast cancer in men accounts for a mere 1% of all diagnoses worldwide, that’s still a lot of men. However, while women are encouraged to be open about their condition, there remains a huge stigma amongst male breast cancer sufferers which can have serious implications.

A recent news story brought home the difficulties and outright unfairness associated with male breast cancer, when a British man discovered he had been diagnosed with the condition for a third time. He’d already been in the headlines a decade ago when, after his initial diagnosis, his insurance company refused to pay for treatment because there were no provisions within the fine print for male breast cancer.

Sadly, this feeling of male exclusion continues to persist through all facets of breast cancer care. According to certain medical experts, many breast cancer trials either exclude – or don’t even think about – men from participating in the study. So, what’s the difference between breast cancer between the sexes?

Genetics play a major part

While the idea that the family history of cancer plays a part in the diagnosis and prevention of female breast cancer is a fairly recent theory, genetics has always been a crucial factor in male breast cancer. It’s estimated that 90% of all male breast cancer cases are oestrogen-dependent, which – in a group of people with a traditionally low content of oestrogen – means that science has traditionally seen the ailment as a genetic fluke.

However, recent research contends that a poor diet, obesity and high alcohol intake can play a major part in causing the development of male breast cancer.

Little support for male breast cancer patients

While the stigma of breast cancer amongst women has practically evaporated, it appears to be next to impossible for men to rely on a support system – partly because it’s seen as a female ailment, partly because the treatment involves an intake of oestrogen (which brings on fears of their own), and partly because men are naturally slow to ask for help when they need it.

The good news for male sufferers of breast cancer is that treatment options for the disease are virtually the same for men as they are for women, meaning that male sufferers can rely on the decades of research and discoveries that have increased survival rates. The bad news is, due to the reasons outlined above, men tend to discover they have the ailment much later on, reducing their chances for a full recovery.

While breast cancer in men is and will always continue to be an incredibly rare occurrence, the situation is unlikely to change. So, the onus is on men to check for lumps and bumps in the chest area as regularly as they would in other areas. This guide from a male healthcare website may be a help.

Berkshire mammograms

Your mam knows best: why mammograms are vital

A 2015 study by the US National Library of Medicine confirmed what all medical experts already knew. Finding breast cancer early reduces the risk of dying from it – and in some cases by up to 25%.

Ever since its debut in mid-Sixties America, the mammogram has become the foremost method of detection, and a valuable weapon in the fight against breast cancer. Early detection, often with the help of a mammogram, has helped to transform breast cancer from being an often fatal condition into something that eight out of every ten people diagnosed with it can survive.

However, despite all the benefits that mammograms can offer – and there are many – there is still an element of fear and dread surrounding them. Part of this is due to the completely natural fear of discovering something you’d much rather not think about, but a far riskier factor is the myths and scaremongering that have stemmed from years of mammogram use. So let’s discuss them.

Radiation from mammograms can’t cause cancer

The solid consensus amongst the medical community is that the benefits of mammograms massively outweigh the risk, and under no circumstances should anyone be scared off from getting checked out. Yes, there is an element of radiation involved in a mammogram, but it’s a very tiny dose – far less than a chest X-ray, and comparable to the radiation you are naturally exposed to over quite short period of time.

A recent study conducted by the University of California in 2014 demonstrated that people massively overestimate the exposure to radiation from mammograms, which – they contend – could lead a section of the female population to believe that mammograms aren’t worth the risk.

Parallel-plate compression does not cause tumours

Although the process of parallel-plate compression – where the breasts are squeezed – in order to even out and reduce the thickness of breast tissue – can often be uncomfortable and even painful for a short time, it does not cause the process of metastasis, in which cells break off a tumour, spread, and settle in a different place in the body to create a secondary tumour.

What can a mammogram show?

A radiologist will typically review your mammogram pictures and the good news is that for about 96% of women in the breast screening programme there will be good news. In early stage breast cancer, there might not be a lump, but the mammogram may reveal areas of calcium in the breast tissue that could be an indication of cancerous changes in the breast. A condition called ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as DCIS, can show up on a mammogram.

While having a mammogram is never going to be a pleasurable (or even comfortable) experience, it remains the best and surest way to detect the onset of breast cancer – and for that reason alone, mammograms remain a process that should never be avoided.

cancer scares in food

Cancer scares in food: should we be worrying?

Last year, it was alcohol. The year before, it was processed meat products. This year – already – we’ve been informed that overcooked roast potatoes, burnt toast, hazelnut spread, biscuits and even baby food have been linked to the increased possibility of developing cancer.

It seems that hardly a week goes by without another new cancer scares in food with a medical report linking a particular food to an increased risk of cancer, to the point where you feel if there’s anything left safe to eat. In fact, it gets to the point where you might feel it’s prudent to carry on eating whatever you like, safe in the knowledge that some other medical report will eventually claim that the food in question is actually good for you.

So what’s the truth behind the headlines?

The first truth is that when it comes to attracting attention (and clicks, and shares), not much beats a cancer scare – especially when it’s linked to something we take for granted, like food. And while there’s a grain of truth to the stories – too much of this or that will create a certain effect – the scientific truth tends to be buried underneath the sensationalism, if it’s there at all.

Take the most recent story – a warning from the Food Standards Agency that overcooked starchy foods such as toast and roast potatoes can create a chemical with links to cancer. As statements go, there’s nothing false about it at all: the chemical in question – acrylamide – is a natural by-product of foods with a high starch content that are fried, roasted, baked or toasted, particularly when they’re overdone.

Is there a link between acrylamide and cancer, though? This is where we hit the first grey area, because so far the link has only been proven in testing on animals – in this case, mice. And as is usually the case in studies like this, the mice used in the study were given astronomical amounts of acrylamide before a connection was made – the equivalent of 160 times the amount of burnt toast and overdone potatoes that humans will normally consume on a day-to-day basis.

Bear in mind that a colossal amount of anything – even water – has the potential to kill you.

What to do about cancer scares in food?

While any new information about what we eat should never be dismissed out of hand, it makes sense not to panic about what you put into your body. The first and most obvious thing to do is to look beyond the headlines, because unless you’re actively reading the most clickbaity websites, the truth about the risk will be found further down the page. You need to find out:

  1. Whether the link to cancer has been established in humans as well as animals
  2. How great the increase of the risk is – in certain cases, such as the recent bacon scare, the increased risk was so minimal as to be inconsequential
  3. The credibility of the people who are making the claim
  4. What reputable organisations – such as the NHS, the European Safety Authority, the US’s FDA, etc – have said in response

The logical next step is to take the information on board and follow sensible advice on dietary matters and act accordingly. A lot of the foods that pop up in these stories – potatoes, bread, hazelnut spread, crisps, biscuits, etc – are almost always ‘treat foods’ that are to be eaten sparingly.

Instead of worrying unnecessarily about individual foods and their possible impact on your health, it is important to bear in mind that the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking is obesity so a sensible and healthy diet should always be your aim.