Men can get breast cancer too

Men can get breast cancer too

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month with all the pink ribbons, shirts and other paraphernalia reminding women to examine themselves regularly and have annual mammograms once they turn 40.

November is notably “Movember,” an excuse for men to grow a moustache or other facial hair to raise awareness for men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancer. However, you might not know that men can also get breast cancer, albeit the chances are rare. Only about 2,400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States as compared to more than 250,000 women. The lifetime risk for a man to get breast cancer is 1 in 1,000 (much higher odds than becoming a professional athlete); by comparison it’s 1 in 8 for a woman. However, the mortality rate for men diagnosed with breast cancer is actually higher than for women, perhaps because of a lack of awareness.

Men’s risk factors for getting breast cancer are similar to women, including having a family history of breast cancer, having a genetic mutation, having high levels of the hormone estrogen, and being exposed to radiation.

Breast cancer can develop in men of any age, but it’s most common in men 60-70 years old. Because early detection increases treatment options and a chance for a full recovery, men should perform regular self-breast examinations, but it is not suggested that men get annual mammograms.

Palomar Health Nurse Navigator Susan Gimbel says, “Men should check for abnormalities in their breast tissue; a painless lump, detected by the patient, is the most common presentation.”

If a self-breast examination reveals a lump or some other abnormality, you should see a doctor immediately. The doctor will perform a physical examination, including a clinical breast exam, followed by an x-ray (mammogram) and possibly a breast ultrasound or biopsy (removal and examination of breast tissue).

Treatment for a man is the same as for a woman: surgery, and possibly radiation, chemotherapy, biological therapy, and hormone therapy.

Men who test positive for breast cancer should strongly consider seeing a genetics counselor. If a man tests positive for a genetic mutation (most commonly BRCA1 or BRCA2), it greatly increases his chance of the cancer returning and his children have a 50% chance of carrying the same gene. A female child of a man with breast cancer, who inherits the genetic mutation, has a risk of 40% to 80% of developing breast cancer herself.

To get comprehensive breast cancer services for both men and women, visit the Jean McLaughlin Women’s Center at Palomar Medical Center Poway where a nurse navigator will guide you through all your options, and a genetics counselor will help you understand your family risks.

Photo caption: Men of all ages should regularly perform self-breast exams