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By Mark DaCosta-
Although breast cancer is generally associated with women, the fact is, men too can develop cancer of the breast.
Breast cancer is any cancer that develops from breast tissue. This disease affects mostly women because women have much more breast tissue than men, and a much higher chance that cancer may develop in that tissue. Additionally, the chance of developing breast cancer increases with the amount of the hormone oestrogen present in the body. While oestrogen is present in moth males and females, healthy men usually have only a small amount of the hormone while women of child bearing age have high levels of natural oestrogen. And, postmenopausal women may use oestrogen replacement prescribed by a doctor.
While male breast cancer is most common in older men, it can occur at any age. Healthy men younger than 35 years old rarely get breast cancer, however, the risk of the disease goes up after about 55 years of age. Overall, about 1 per cent of men will develop breast cancer.
Male breast cancer is highly curable if caught early. Unfortunately, unlike women, men are not socially conditioned to look out for breast cancer, as such, symptoms are often missed or ignored until it is too late.
In men, breast cancer usually starts in the breast tissue behind the nipple. Symptoms include the following:
- a lump in the breast – this is usually hard, painless and does not move around within the breast
- the nipple turning inwards
- fluid oozing from the nipple, which may be streaked with blood
- a sore or rash around the nipple that does not go away
- the nipple or surrounding skin becoming hard, red or swollen
- small bumps in the armpit
If such symptoms are observed, a doctor should be consulted without delay.
Some men are at higher risk of developing the disease. The following are some factors associated with heightened risk:
- Older age. The risk of breast cancer increases as you age. Male breast cancer is most often diagnosed in men in their 60s.
- Exposure to oestrogen. If you take oestrogen-related drugs, such as those used for hormone therapy for prostate cancer, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
- Family history of breast cancer. If you have a close family member with breast cancer, you have a greater chance of developing the disease.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome. This genetic syndrome occurs when boys are born with more than one copy of the X chromosome. Klinefelter’s syndrome causes abnormal development of the testicles. As a result, men with this syndrome produce lower levels of certain male hormones (androgens) and more female hormones (oestrogens).
- Liver disease. Certain conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones, increasing your risk of breast cancer.
- Obesity. Obesity is associated with higher levels of estrogen in the body, which increases the risk of male breast cancer.
- Testicle disease or surgery. Having inflamed testicles (orchitis) or surgery to remove a testicle (orchiectomy) can increase your risk of male breast cancer.
Men at higher risk may wish to speak with a doctor about the risk.
Breast cancer in men and women are treated similarly. Depending on the specific type of disease and how advanced it is, the doctor has various treatment options including radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of treatments. Regardless of any other considerations, it is important to keep in mind that almost any cancer is treatable if it is detected early. With that in mind, men should remain vigilant about any health related changes, and share any concerns with a doctor.