Breast cancer in men is not a typical type of neoplastic process that is commonly found in males, but still affects tens of thousands of men yearly worldwide. Breast cancer is a huge problem for women, but considerably less than 1% of all breast cancers affect males. Over our many years of education and advocacy work, we have come to realize that most people do not even know that men can develop breast cancer. In fact, if more men realized that they are at risk, detection and prevention efforts would most likely be markedly improved compared to current trends.
This discussion is a primer on the types of breast cancer that affect men. We will examine the definitions of mammary cancer in men, the incidence of breast cancer and the typical outcomes of the disease in the male population. This essay is a must read for all men, especially those who demonstrate the most common risk factors towards developing a neoplastic process in the breast, as well as for the women who love them.
Breast Cancer in Men Defined
Male breast cancer is exactly the same as mammary cancer that will affect any woman. The disease occurs due to malignant mutations in cells that cause the condition to grow locally, then regionally, then eventually systemically.
Male breast cancer can occur in the deep or surface tissues of the breast itself. This can mean the disease strikes the small amount of breast tissue under the surface of the skin or in the surface tissues, such as the areola or nipple. Some cancers primarily affect the lymphatic tissues in and around the breast, infecting the lymph structures near the collarbone or axilla.
Male breast cancers can become invasive, growing inwards into the body, affecting the chest wall tissues, muscles and organs, such as the lungs. In the worst scenarios, cancer can get into the bones or bloodstream, allowing it to spread throughout the body by a process called metastasis.
It must be noted immediately that not all breast abnormalities found in men are cancerous. In fact, the vast majority of mumps, bumps, rashes and discharges in and around the male breast tissues are not malignant. Some of these conditions are gynecomastia expressions. Others might be benign cysts and tumors, such as lipomas, fibroadenomas and papillomas. Infection of the breast or nipple is another more common cause of pain, discharge, irritation and sensitivity.
Breast Cancer in Men Occurrence
Only a few thousand men develop breast cancer each year. There are several known risk factors that can significantly increase the odds of being victimized by male mammary cancer, so men who demonstrate these characteristics should be especially vigilant about detection and prevention efforts:
A family history, including the inheritance of the BRCA1 and especially the BRCA2 genes will markedly increase the risk of cancer development in the male breast.
Advancing age increases the risk for all types of cancers.
Radiation exposure is a known problem that might enhance the chances of developing breast cancer for women and men. This radiation may be man-made or might simply involve excessive exposure to the natural UV radiation given off by the sun.
Liver dysfunction is a major factor in the development of male breast cancer. Most cases involve functional deficits caused by caused by excessively drinking alcohol or the unwanted collateral side effects of prescription, OTC or illicit pharmaceutical products.
Demonstration of glandular gynecomastia is a major risk, since the breast tissue resembles that of a woman structurally and therefore becomes a more suitable host for the cancer process.
Being overweight increases the risk of virtually all dire health issues, including male breast cancer.
Klinefelter syndrome is a hormone imbalance that leads to female trait development. Other hormone-induced problems, such as those suffered by men who are treated with estrogen, also optimize the risk of developing a neoplastic process in the breast and surrounding lymphatic structures.
There are also other less common health conditions, diseases and lifestyle factors that can increase the odds of suffering breast cancer.
Breast Cancer in Men Outcomes
Breast cancer in males poses some unique challenges. First and foremost are the problems of prevention and detection, since many men do not even know that they are at risk for mammary cancer. A great number of men never seek medical identification of genetic markers that might dispose them towards cancer development, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Since men often do not know they can suffer breast cancer, they also do nothing to mitigate their risks until they already have developed the disease. Furthermore, many men who are affected by the warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer do not realize what their bodies are telling them once again due to a lack of understanding that mammary cancer can affect men and women alike.
Men rarely perform breast exams on themselves and some physicians also do not perform regular examinations, even though these tests should be a part of every yearly health check for men past a certain age and particularly for men who demonstrate heightened risk factors for cancer development.
If breast cancer is discovered early, then the prognosis for a cure is excellent. However, the longer the cancer survives undiscovered and the more it spreads regionally and systemically, the worse the prognosis becomes for the unfortunate male patient.