Breast cancer. Those two words, it would seem, are everywhere nowadays. Women as young as 35 are being diagnosed with a disease that we thought was common only above the age of 50.
But can men be afflicted with breast cancer, too? Sounds odd, doesn’t it?
Breast Cancer In Men
Albeit rare, breast cancer can occur in men. Male breast cancer accounts for around 1 percent of all breast cancers. Men do have breast tissue, except that it doesn’t develop as it does in women. And it is this same tissue that can be afflicted with cancerous cells.
The breast is constituted primarily of lobules, ducts, and stroma. Lobules are glands that produce the milk in the breasts, and ducts are structures similar to tubes that carry the milk produced by the lobules to the nipples. Men can be afflicted with the same types of breast cancer as women. It is rare that men might be afflicted with cancers of the lobules or the ducts, but cancer in the stroma is not all that rare among men. Stroma is the fatty and connective tissue that surrounds the lobules and ducts and blood and lymphatic vessels in the breast region. The low levels of hormones that enable the development of the breast tissue in general, especially the lobules, make it a rare occurrence for men to have cancer of the lobules.
Symptoms And Diagnosis
The lymphatic vessels in the breast region are a cause for concern as cancers spread through the lymph nodes to the armpits and downward to other organs.
As with women, lumps around the breast area are the first symptoms of breast cancer in men, but unfortunately, due to the underdevelopment of the tissue in men, it is challenging to detect breast cancer in the early stages. Another reason lumps may not be the most reliable symptom in men is that their painless nature leads many men to dismiss them and self-diagnose them as benign.
The lack of breast development could mean that some of the lymph nodes have already started showing a spread of cancer, leading to easy metastasis to other regions of the body, thereby resulting in a late diagnosis of breast cancer. Other symptoms include puckering of the nipple, discharge from the nipple, swelling around the nipple, inward turn of the nipple, and swollen glands appearing as tiny lumps in the underarm region. Even though most lumps in men do turn out to be non-cancerous, it is best to have them checked out by a doctor, who may recommend a biopsy to be absolutely sure of its benign nature.
Lack of awareness about breast cancer in men and social factors such as humiliation frequently contribute to late diagnosis. Many men tend to ignore the symptoms or do not undergo regular screenings even if there is a history of breast cancer in the family.
As with all other cancers, the outlook and the prognosis depend on the stage of the breast cancer. Even though breast cancer is predominantly curable, late diagnosis could complicate treatment and chances of complete cure.
Men over 50 are more vulnerable to breast cancer than younger men. Risk factors for breast cancer in men include aging, an increase in the production of estrogen, a close female relative with the history of breast cancer, exposure to radiation, and other universal factors like smoking, alcohol, and environment.
It is recommended that men at risk consult a doctor to arrange for a thorough screening, including mammography, breast ultrasound, and magnetic resource imaging. If you don’t have the symptoms or are younger than 50, consider visiting a genetic specialist to understand your chances.
Although the rates of occurrence have been fairly stable for around three decades now, records show that every year, nearly 3,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer, and the mortality rate is close to 450 annually.
The plan of treatment depends on the extent to which the cancer has spread, and it is customized according to the specialist’s diagnosis, taking into account your medical history and lifestyle factors. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy, and your customized plan may include any or all of the above.
The treatment should also ideally include counseling for emotional health. The fight against cancer may appear lonely, but in reality, the disease also affects your loved ones and caretakers to a great extent. In spite of its prominence today, and the advances in medicines and its treatment, cancer can still bring about a sense of morbidity to not just the patients but also to the loved ones surrounding them. Cancer support groups are rather common, and the patients and the caretakers should consider joining one.
Even though the occurrence of breast cancer in men is still quite rare, it is recommended that we take steps to help those at risk get regular screenings and early diagnosis not just to prolong their life but also enhance the quality of their life.