Breast cancer mainly afflicts women, but men are susceptible to tumors in their breasts, too. Although rare in men, breast cancer is often detected too late, decreasing chances for survival. The American Cancer Society predicts more than 2,300 cases of breast cancer in men in 2014 will result in more than 400 men dying. While these statistics pale in comparison to the number of women who will be diagnosed and die, it does represent an increase from 2013.
Why men develop breast cancer is not as understood as the disease’s development in women. Researchers acknowledge a predisposition to the disease in men is linked to aging and family history. Men can develop breast cancer at any age, but the disease appears to be mostly detected between the age of 60 and 70.
Men who have had their chest exposed to radiation also have an increased chance of developing breast cancer. Liver disorders and alcohol consumption also have been linked to breast cancer in men.
Perhaps the most common trait in men with breast cancer relates to the body’s production of hormones found in women. Whether it be estrogen-related drugs used to treat other types of cancer or the presence of a congenital condition where men are born with two X chromosomes, there are not enough case studies to help researchers pinpoint who is more likely to develop breast cancer. Even obesity, which affects hormone productivity, has been viewed as a culprit.
Detecting breast cancer in men can be easier than in women because the male breast is smaller and a tumor can be detected more readily. But because there is so little breast tissue, the tumor has the ability to spread faster to lymph nodes or other tissues before being detected. Also, many men are unaware of the risks or embarrassed to have symptoms checked.
Similar to women, early detection of breast cancer in men is crucial to treatment and survival. Some signs that men should not dismiss include redness on the skin and around the nipple, a discharge from the nipple and swelling in the breast area in the absence of pain. Lumps should not be overlooked. By the time breast cancer is diagnosed, aggressive treatment, including having the breast removed, might be the best course of action.
Other treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy or a combination of these treatments. But because of the disease’s rarity, most of the science community’s knowledge is based on how women with breast cancer are treated.
Following treatment, many are concerned about the cancer returning. Doctors might schedule lab tests and scans to closely monitor therapy and growth of cells in the breast. Side effects might linger for months. A swelling of the arm might occur because of the removal of lymph nodes allows fluid to build up.
Researchers remain dedicated to finding a cure. Clinical trials are ongoing and studies reveal a number of lifestyles that might contribute to the chance of breast cancer developing in men. Some studies even point to environmental issues that might be responsible.
Many of these studies remain in the early stages. Despite the rarity of the disease found in men, organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation, American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute have compiled information on detecting and treating breast cancer.