Dr Tendai Zuze
THIS may come as a surprise, but men can also get cancer of the breasts. This, however, is fairly rare and only about one percent of breast cancer occurs in men.This means about 2 600 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease worldwide this year.
For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1 000 and 440 men are expected to die of the disease this year.
You may be wondering if men even have breasts; the truth is that boys, girls, men and women all have breast tissue.
The various hormones in girls’ and women’s bodies stimulate the breast tissue to grow into full breasts.
Boys’ and men’s bodies normally don’t make much of the breast-stimulating hormones.
As a result, their breast tissue usually stays flat and small. But sometimes men can develop real breast gland tissue because they take certain medicines or have abnormal hormone levels.
A number of factors can increase a man’s risk of getting breast cancer. It’s important to understand these risk factors because men are not usually screened for this condition and as a result it tends to be more advanced in men than in women when it is first detected.
Below are the factors that increase a man’s chances of getting breast cancer:
Growing older: This is the biggest factor. Just as is the case for women, risk increases with age. The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is about 68 years.
High oestrogen levels: Breast cell growth — both normal and abnormal — is stimulated by the presence of oestrogen. Men can have highoestrogen levels as a result of taking hormonal medicines, being overweight, being alcoholic and having liver disease.
A strong family history of breast cancer: Family history can increase the risk of breast cancer in men — particularly if other men in the family have had breast cancer. The risk is also higher if there is a proven breast cancer gene abnormality in the family.
Radiation exposure: Having radiation therapy to the chest before age 30, and particularly during adolescence, may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. This has been seen in young people receiving radiation to treat other diseases.
Lifestyle factors: As with other types of cancer, studies continue to show that various lifestyle factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer. These include being obese, lack of exercise and excessive smoking and drinking.
Minimising these risk factors will go some way in reducing your chance of getting breast cancer.
As a man, if you notice any persistent changes to your breasts, you should contact your doctor.
Here are some things to watch out for:
a lump felt in the breast
an inverted nipple
nipple discharge (clear or bloody)
sores on and around the nipple
enlarged lymph nodes under the arm
It’s important to note that enlargement of both breasts is usually NOT cancer.
The medical term for this is gynecomastia. Sometimes the breasts can become quite large.
Non-cancer-related enlargement of the breasts can be caused by medications, heavy alcohol use, weight gain, or marijuana use.
After an abnormality of the breast is found, tests are performed to see if the problem is cancer.
Possible tests include mammogram, ultrasound scanning, nipple discharge examination and biopsy (where a piece of the suspicious breast is cut off and examined in the laboratory).
If a cancer diagnosis is made, your doctor might recommend more tests. For example, an MRI can show how much cancer is in the affected breast relative to the normal tissue right under and next to the breast cancer. This information may help the surgeon plan the extent of surgery.
Plus, an MRI can help evaluate the other breast to see if it’s OK.
Other tests, such as blood work, chest X-ray, and bone scan, might be done to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Most men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo some form of treatment for the disease.
The most favourable course of treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the size and location of the breast tumour, the stage of the cancer, and results of other laboratory tests
If you are worried about breast cancer please visit your doctor.