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Health & Wellness

What Men Need to Know About Male Breast Cancer

Close up of a man's chest looking for signs of male breast cancer
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Screening methods like mammograms aren't available to detect male breast cancer early, but men can perform chest and breast self-examinations to check for signs.

Most people think of women as breast cancer patients, but about one in every 1,000 cases diagnosed is found in a man.

Dr. Umar Butt, a surgical oncologist at Medical City McKinney, told KERA's Sam Baker most men aren’t aware or find it difficult to believe they could have breast cancer, but he said it’s very similar to what women go through.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

How Breast Cancer Differs For Men

The main difference is that cancer in men tends to present at a later stage, and more aggressive. It has usually gone to their lymph nodes, which is the second station from starting from the chest where we call it localized disease.

And then when it moves from the chest wall or the breast to the armpit, to lymph nodes, when cancer spreads from one place to another, that's called locally advanced.

So most male patients who present with breast cancer are locally advanced and have moved on from one place. They have jumped to another station and after that, we call it metastatic disease, which means that it spread to other parts of the body.

Can Male Breast Cancer Be Detected Earlier?


The problem is that we do not have screening mammography for men like we have for females.

However, they can do a self-chest and breast examination. Make sure that they don't have any lumps or bumps or anything that causes pain. Also, that there's no nipple retraction, or oozing from the nipple site.

Risk Factors For Male Breast Cancer:

  • Family History: Patients who have a history of breast cancer in one of their first-degree relatives can get genetic testing done, which can then lead to finding genes that affect male breast cancer.
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Certain kinds of medications, especially in patients who have prostate cancer. They use estrogen-based therapies.

Also age: Men 65-plus have a higher risk for different reasons:

  • One, testosterone levels go down and the body has excessive fat deposits that can act as stores of estrogen. The more estrogen we have in our system puts you at a higher risk for developing certain cancers, including breast cancers.
  • Two, certain genetic changes can happen in certain cells that can lead to these cancers.

Treatment options:

  • Surgery. And if we can get the patients to surgery, that's usually their best shot because that means we are working towards a cure with a mastectomy or lumpectomy.
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation.

The only difference from treating women is that men do not have a lot of breast tissue. Sometimes doing a lumpectomy involves taking the whole tumor out. So, most patients would then opt for a mastectomy.

Do primary care physicians think about this during physical exams to the extent that they should?


I don't think they do, and that comes down to male breast cancer not being so common. But most of the time what happens is patients are sometimes reluctant to tell their physicians. And when they're doing a physical examination, sometimes they check the abdomen and the chest, but they could easily miss that if it's a small mass. So, it has to come from both the patient and the primary care physicians as well.

RESOURCES:

Male Breast Cancer

CDC: Breast Cancer in Men

BRCA Gene Mutations: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing

American Cancer Society

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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