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Male Breast Cancer

Published on | Kylie Chin

That’s not a typo—breast cancer can and does occur in men but it’s rare. In fact, it occurs in less than 1% of all breast cancer cases, so most people don’t even realize that the disease affects more than just women.

According to cancer researchers, it’s estimated that in 2014 there will be 2,360 new cases of male breast cancer in the U.S. This is in contrast to 232,670 new breast cancer cases projected for women.

Wait, so how is male breast cancer possible?

Male breast cancer may seem strange to think about, but it’s easier to grasp when you consider something we all have in common: breast tissue. Like women, men have breast tissue—it may be less “fatty” because they have different hormones that stimulate less breast growth, and it’s incapable of producing milk—but this tissue is still vulnerable to cancer.

Here’s how male breast cancer forms: First, cells in the breast tissue change and they stop carrying out their normal cell function. Over time, the healthy cells will naturally die off and the body will replace them with malignant cancer cells, which don’t die off like normal cells. These abnormal cells form together as a lump or “tumor,” and their damaging behavior can be lethal.

Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer

Early detection is imperative for survival, but most males don’t think to check for breast cancer so it often goes unnoticed. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • A lump in breast tissue
  • Pain or throbbing in nipple area
  • An inverted nipple
  • Fluid or blood discharge from the nipple
  • Inflammation or sores of the nipple/areola
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arm

Breast enlargement can occur in men, but it’s not always a sign of cancer. Known as “gynecomastia,” this condition causes a man’s breast to become quite large, usually because of a hormone imbalance. Some causes for this include certain medications, excessive alcohol consumption, severe weight gain, and marijuana use.

Treatment of Male Breast Cancer

Treatment for breast cancer in men is often handled in the same way as women. In short, it depends on the stage of the cancer and how well the patient is doing. Most men with breast cancer have a mastectomy, which is a surgical procedure that involves removing the breast, the lining of the chest muscles, or portions of the underarm.

If the cancer has spread or metastasized, then doctors may recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy. These treatment options are called “adjuvant therapies,” and they are used to kill cancer cells, stop cancer growth, or a combination of both.

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