Breast cancer isn’t just a woman’s disease – men can get it too and although there have been many breast cancer awareness campaigns, the majority of them aren’t targeted at men. While male breast cancer in men is a very rare occurrence – one in 1,000 men are likely to contract it over their lifetime, compared to 1 in 8 for women – it still can occur, and it can be just as dangerous.
However, while men are becoming more aware of prostate and testicular cancer, the stigmas around male breast cancer still persist. So let’s break down some of the facts about male breast cancer.
How can men have breast cancer when they don’t have breasts?
Because men also have breast tissue. From birth until puberty, males actually have the same amount of breast tissue as their female counterparts – it’s only when hormonal changes kick in that things start to change for women and stay the same for men. Breast tissue can still swell in males, in certain cases, but gynaecomastia (as it’s known) has no link to breast cancer.
What are the symptoms of male breast cancer?
- A hard, painless lump in the breast area
- An inverted nipple
- Discharge from the nipple (which may or may not be streaked with blood)
- Soreness and/or a rash around the nipple
Having any of these symptoms does not automatically mean you’re suffering from breast cancer, but it’s vital that you check in with your GP, particularly if you have a lump in the breast area, have nipple discharge and have a close family history of breast cancer.
What causes male breast cancer?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint clear links between certain behaviours and male breast cancer, certain signifiers 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
- Medicines that increase the amount of oestrogen taken into the body, such as hormone treatments which are sometimes used to treat prostate cancer
- Obesity and the development of cirrhosis through drinking
- Previous exposure to radiotherapy in the chest area
How is male breast cancer treated?
There is a range of treatments available, depending on how advanced the condition is. Possible treatments include a mastectomy, which will involve the removal of the affected breast tissue and nipple, as well as the possible removal of certain glands in the armpit. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also possible options.
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. So, although male breast cancer may be much rarer, it is important to raise awareness of the condition as increased knowledge can make the difference between early intervention and a more challenging treatment journey.