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Did You Know About Men’s Breast Cancer?

October is the national month for Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns, and you will see the color pink on clothing, products, and commercials in honor of breast cancer survivors. The majority of breast cancer victims are women, but there is a growing rate of men who are stricken with breast cancer, too. In the United States in 2009, it is predicted that 2,000 new cases of men’s breast cancer will be diagnosed, and because of the lack of early detection of most male breast cancers, many of these cases will be in the advanced stages for the disease. Since early diagnosis and treatment is crucial for survival rates, it is just as important for men to be aware of changes in their breasts as it is for women. Here is some helpful information for men on male breast cancer.

The breasts of both men and women are composed of nodules, ducts, and stroma, or the fatty and connective tissues surrounding the breasts. Until puberty, men and women’s breasts look the same, but after the initiation of menses, women develop larger breasts for multiple purposes. The reasons men have lower incidences of breast cancer are due to having less breast fatty tissue that is more prone to cancer cells, having less developed male breast duct cells, and they have lower levels  of female hormones, especially estrogen.

These are possible signs men can look for in early detection for breast cancer:
  • A lump or unusual swelling
  • A nipple that has retracted or turned inward
  • A dimpling or puckering in the breast skin
  • Redness, scaling, or irritation of the nipple or breast skin
  • Discharge from the nipple

Not all of these symptoms are due to breast cancer, but if you have any of the symptoms, you should immediately consult your physician. If your physician thinks you may have breast cancer, he or she will want to perform a complete physical, get personal and family medical histories, and probably schedule a mammogram or sonogram of the breast to help with the diagnosis. Approximately 1 in 5 men who have breast cancer have a family history of breast cancer. This correlation may lead to finding a genetic predisposition for breast cancer in men as well as women.

There are several risk factors for men that are correlated with breast cancer. However, even if a man has one or more of these risk factors, this does not mean he will automatically develop breast cancer. Here are the main risk factors for men in developing breast cancer:

  • Aging- most men are 67 years old at the time of diagnosis
  • Family History of breast cancer
  • Inherited Gene Mutations- 1 out of 10 men diagnosed with breast cancer have a mutation in the BRCA2 gene
  • Radiation Exposure
  • Alcohol- heavy alcohol intake over time
  • Liver Disease- men with severe liver dysfunction have lower rates of androgens and higher rates of estrogen
  • Estrogen Levels- higher levels of estrogen in men has been linked with increased incidences of breast cancer
  • Obesity- fat cells convert androgens into estrogens
  • Testicular Issues- undescended testicles, having mumps as an adult, or testicular dysfunctions
  • Environmental factors- certain jobs, chemicals, and environmental exposures can be linked with male breast cancer

After the breast cancer is diagnosed, the same protocols for medical interventions are given to men as those performed with women. There are several choices for treatment, each with pros and cons, so all the choices for treatment should be thoroughly discussed and explored with your physician and/or oncologist. The treatments are often different for the type, location, and stage of the breast cancer, however here are some of the most common medical protocol interventions:

  • Surgery
  • Lumpectomy
  • Mastectomy
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Adjuvant Hormone Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Combination of any of the above treatments

Since receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can be shocking and anxiety provoking, it is crucial for your own efficacy to ask appropriate questions of the physician and/or oncologist. It is recommended to write down and bring with you all of your questions prior to the medical appointment so you remember to cover the pertinent issues. Here are a few sample questions you might want to ask:

  • What type of breast cancer do I have?
  • What is the stage of my cancer?
  • What treatments are appropriate for my type and stage of breast cancer?
  • Which treatment(s) do you recommend for me and why?
  • How can I prepare for these treatments?
  • What are the risks of these treatments?
  • What are the side effects, if any, for the treatments?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • ;What are the plans for me if the breast cancer recurs?

There are other interventions you can do to help your prognosis if you are diagnosed with breast cancer. These healthy living habits will boost your immune system and keep it performing at top functioning. These strategies include taking vitamins, eating healthy organic foods, getting 7- 8 hours of sleep a night, losing weight, and regularly exercising.

If you would like more information and resources for men’s breast cancer, please contact the national resources listed below:

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