Male breast cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the breast tissue of men. Breast cancer is widely believed to be a woman’s disease, however, male breast cancer does occur. It is common in older men, though it can arise at any age.
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Symptoms of Male breast cancer
- A painless lump or thickening in your breast tissue
- Discharge from nipple
- Changes to the skin covering your breast, such as dimpling, creasing, soreness or scaling
- Changes to your nipple, such as redness or scaling, or a nipple that begins to turn inward
See your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that bothers you.
Causes of Male Breast cancer
Doctors are not quite certain what causes male breast cancer. Though they suspect it occurs when some breast cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells do. The gathering cells form a tumor that may spread to nearby tissue, to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.
Breast tissue which is found in women and men, consists of milk-producing glands (lobules), ducts that carry milk to the nipples, and fat. Women starts developing more breast tissue during puberty, and men do not. However because men are born with a small amount of breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer.
Types of Male Breast cancer
Types of breast cancer diagnosed in men include:
- Cancer that starts in the milk ducts (ductal carcinoma).Almost all male breast cancer is ductal carcinoma.
- Cancer that starts in the milk-producing glands (lobular carcinoma).This type is rare in men because they have few lobules in their breast tissue.
- Cancer that spreads to the nipple (Paget’s disease of the nipple).Male breast cancer forms in the milk ducts and spreads to the nipple, causing crusty, scaly skin around the nipple, though it is rare.
Inherited genes that increase breast cancer risk
Some men inherit abnormal (mutated) genes from their parents that increase the risk of breast cancer. Mutations in one of several genes, especially a gene called BRCA2, put you at greater risk of developing breast and prostate cancers.
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These genes usually produce proteins that keep cells from growing strangely, which helps prevent cancer. But mutated genes aren’t as active at protecting you from cancer.
See a genetic counselor and undergo genetic testing can determine whether you carry gene mutations that increase your risk of breast cancer.
Factors that increase the risk of male breast cancer include:
- Old age.Your risk of male breast cancer increases with age. The peak incidence of male breast cancer occurs between the ages of 68 and 71.
- Family history of breast cancer.If you have a close family member with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of developing the disease.
- Liver disease.Certain conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones, increasing your risk of breast cancer.
- Exposure to estrogen.Your risk of breast cancer is high if you take estrogen-related drugs, such as those used as part of a sex-change procedure or for hormone treatment for prostate cancer..
- Fat cells convert androgens into estrogen. A higher number of fat cells in your body may lead to increased estrogen and higher risk of breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure.Radiation cancer treatments to your chest may increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer later in life.
- Testicle disease or surgery.Having inflamed testicles (orchitis) or surgery to remove a testicle (orchiectomy) can increase your risk of male breast cancer.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome.This genetic syndrome occurs when a boy is born with more than one copy of the X chromosome. The condition causes abnormal development of the testicles, which causes him to produce lower levels of certain male hormones (androgens) and more female hormones (estrogens).
Diagnosing male breast cancer
Your doctor may conduct a number of diagnostic tests and procedures, such as:
- Clinical breast exam.Your doctor uses their fingertips to examine your breasts and surrounding areas for lumps or other changes. If lumps are found, your doctor assesses how large the lumps are, how they feel, and how close they are to your skin and muscles.
- Imaging tests.Mammogram and ultrasound can detect suspicious masses in your breast tissue.
- This procedure involves inserting a fine needle into the breast to remove tissue for analysis in the laboratory. Test results can reveal whether you have breast cancer and if so, the type of breast cancer you have.
Determining the extent of the cancer
Determining the extent (stage) of your cancer helps your doctor evaluate treatment options. Biopsy, blood tests and imaging tests can be used to stage male breast cancer.
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The stages of male breast cancer are:
- Stage I.The tumor is no more than 2 centimeters (cm) in diameter (about 3/4 inch) and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage II.The tumor may be up to 5 cm (about 2 inches) in diameter and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. Or the tumor may be larger than 5 cm but no cancer cells are seen in the lymph nodes.
- Stage III.The tumor may be larger than 5 cm (about 2 inches) in diameter and may involve several nearby lymph nodes. Lymph nodes above the collarbone may also contain cancer cells.
- Stage IV.Cancer at this stage has spread beyond the breast to distant areas.
To determine your male breast cancer treatment options, your doctor considers your cancer’s stage, your overall health and your preferences. Male breast cancer treatment often involves surgery and may also include other treatments.
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The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and surrounding breast tissue. The procedures include:
- Removal of breast tissue and surrounding lymph nodes (modified radical mastectomy).The surgeon removes all of your breast tissue, including the nipple and areola, and some underarm lymph nodes.
- Removal of one lymph node for testing (sentinel lymph node biopsy).The doctor identifies the lymph node most likely to be the first place your cancer cells would spread. That lymph node is removed and analyzed. If no cancer cells are found, there is a good chance that your breast cancer hasn’t spread beyond your breast tissue.
This method uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. In male breast cancer, radiation therapy may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the breast, chest muscles or armpit. During radiation therapy, radiation comes from a large machine that moves around your body, directing the energy beams to precise points on your chest.
Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancer cells. These medications may be administered through a vein in your arm (intravenously), in pill form or by both methods.
Your doctor might recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells that might have spread outside your breast. Chemotherapy may also be an option for men with advanced breast cancer.
If your cancer is hormone-sensitive, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy. Hormone therapy for male breast cancer often involves the medication tamoxifen, which is also used for women too.
Coping and support
A cancer diagnosis can be quite devastating. However, as time goes on, you’ll find ways to cope with the stress of cancer and treatment. You can find support by:
- Talking with someone.You may open up your feelings with a friend or family member, or you might prefer meeting with a formal support group.
- Prayer or meditation.You can pray or mediate on your own or receive guidance from a spiritual adviser or from an instructor.
- Gentle exercise may help boost your mood and make you feel better. Ask your doctor for suitable exercise.
- Creative activities.Do things you enjoy most at your leisure time, such as music, dance, art, and other creative activities. Some cancer centers have specially trained professionals who can guide you through these activities.