Breast cancer awareness is abundant, as it well should be, but what we don’t talk about often enough is breast cancer in men.
Everyone, regardless of sex, is born with breast cells and tissue. So even though males don’t develop milk-producing breasts, their tissue and cells can still develop cancer.
Here’s the thing: Breast cancer is actually very rare in men -- at less than 1% of all breast cancer cases -- but men carry a much higher mortality rate than women, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
What are your risk factors?
The main contributors for increasing a risk of breast cancer in men are:
- Radiation exposure.
- High levels of the hormone estrogen.
- A family history of breast cancer, especially one that is related to the BRCA2 gene.
But let’s back up for a second.
What symptoms should you be looking for?
Men can show the same symptoms as women with breast cancer, including a lump. Other major symptoms include:
- A change in how the breast or nipple feels. This includes in or near the underarm area.
- A change in the breast or nipple appearance, including size, dimpling, swelling, shrinkage or recent asymmetry.
- Nipple discharge -- particularly clear discharge or bloody discharge.
Men who have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer are at higher risk of getting prostate cancer at a younger age than a normal diagnosis, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
There are other things worth noting, too.
Genetics testing can detect the defective BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can lead to a future diagnosis of breast cancer. For men who test positive for either gene, their children have a 50% chance of carrying that gene.
A male child of a man with breast cancer has 6% chance or less of eventually developing breast cancer, but a daughter has between a 40% to 80% risk of eventually developing breast cancer.
The majority of men who develop breast cancer are diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, in which the cells in or around the ducts invade the surrounding tissue. The other, less common, diagnoses are inflammatory breast cancer or Paget disease.
If you notice any abnormalities or show any of the signs or symptoms above, be sure to check with your health care provider. Though having some of these symptoms does not automatically mean you have breast cancer, it’s best to check with a professional.
This article was initially published in 2019. It has since been updated.