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Male Breast Cancer

When we think of breasts, we tend to think of women. But men also have breast tissue and can develop breast diseases, including breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a complex disease and there is still a lot to learn, including about male breast cancer. Although breast cancer in men is rare, it does happen. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2015, an estimated 25,000 women and 220 men in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to the small number of cases, breast cancer in men is not well understood, stigmatizedStigma:
The shame attached to something seen as socially unacceptable. For men with breast cancer, there may be a greater sense of embarrassment about a breast cancer diagnosis because it is often thought of as a woman’s disease.
, and can be misdiagnosed or diagnosed late.

One reason men may have a significantly lower risk for breast cancer than women is because their mammary ductDuct (mammary duct):
A hollow passage for gland secretions. There are ducts in the female and male breast.
cellsCell:
The basic structural and functional unit of all organisms.
are less developed than women’s. Another reason for the difference in risk levels between men and women, is that men’s breast cells are not constantly exposed to the female hormoneHormone:
A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.
estrogenEstrogen:
A female sex hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries. A woman’s levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout her life. Estrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer and may promote the growth of cancer cells.
, which is an established risk factorsRisk factor:
Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease, such as cancer.
in the development of breast cancer.

What To Look For

The most common symptoms of male breast cancer are a painless lumpLump:
A mass that can be found in the breast or elsewhere in the body. This can also be called a nodule.
near the nipple or dischargeDischarge (nipple):
Fluid from the nipple, that is not breast milk or related to breastfeeding. Nipple discharge should be evaluated by a health care provider.
from the nipple. Men have less fat tissue in their breasts than women, so lumps may be more easily noticed. However, because men may not be aware that they can develop breast cancer or of other breast cancer symptoms, they may ignore early warning signs and delay seeking medical attention. Since breast cancer in men is rare, it’s also possible that it may not be recognized by a health care provider. If you feel something isn’t right, be persistent in asking for tests to help diagnose the signs and symptoms you may be experiencing, or to be referred to a specialist for a second opinion.

Earlier detection is key to the successful treatment of breast cancer, so it’s important for men to be breast aware and see a health care provider right away if they notice any of the following:

Know Your Risks

Many of the risk factors for breast cancer in men are the same as for women: a family history of breast or ovarianOvary:
A female reproductive organ in which ova or eggs are produced. The ovaries also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
cancer that may suggest an inherited BRCA1BRCA1:
A gene which, when damaged (mutated), places a person at greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, compared to someone who does not have the mutation.
or BRCA2BRCA2:
A gene which, when damaged (mutated), places a person at greater risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, compared to someone who does not have the mutation.
mutation; lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, being an unhealthy weight or physically inactive; and radiationRadiation therapy:
(Sometimes called radiotherapy) A treatment method that uses a high energy beam to destroy cancer cells by damaging the DNA of cancer cells so that they can’t continue to grow.
exposure to the chest for medical treatment (e.g. for cancer treatment), particularly as a child or youth.

Additional risk factors for men include the following:

Regular exercise, a healthier body weight, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption are some ways men can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages men, like women, to be breast aware. Know how your breasts normally look and feel, and if something doesn’t look or feel right, discuss your concerns with a health care provider.

Supports and Resources

Given that breasts and breast cancer tend to be associated with women, men who are diagnosed with breast cancer may feel some stigma or they may feel very alone. If you are a man who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you do not have to face it alone. There is information and support available for men with breast cancer.

Your health care team can direct you to sources of support in the community including counseling services or community based organizations that offer various kinds of support for people living with cancer. There are also online communities for men diagnosed with breast cancer, where you can ask questions, read about the experiences of others, or share your story, if that is helpful for you.  Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada has a list of male breast cancer resources which you may find helpful. 


Sources:

American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer in Men. Accessed June 2, 2014.

Canadian Cancer Society’s Steering Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015, Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society, 2015. Accessed July 2, 2015.

Mount Sinai Hospital. Breast Cancer: Men get it too. Accessed June 2, 2014.

Greif, JM; Pezzi, CM; Klimberg, VS; Bailey, L.; Zuraek, M. (2012, May) Gender Differences in Breast Cancer: Analysis of 13,000 Male Breast Cancers from the National Cancer Data Base. Abstract presented at the American Society of Breast Surgeons 13th Annual Meeting, Phoenix, AZ.