Breast cancer, which is very common in women, also affects men. In the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 100 cases (or 1%) of breast cancer is found in men. However, it is important for men to know that they may be affected by this cancer, in particular so as not to overlook the symptoms.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those found in women. It could be a hard, painless lump, discharge or bleeding from the nipple, breast pain, or an inverted nipple. Some known risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, exposure to radiation, but also cirrhosis.
Risk factors of breast cancer in men
There are certain factors that can make it more likely that a man will one day develop breast cancer.
- Age — A man’s risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Breast cancer is more commonly diagnosed in men over the age of 60.
- A family history of breast cancer — Men whose close relatives, both male and female, have had breast cancer are at greater risk of developing this disease. The risk increases depending on the number of close relatives affected by this cancer.
- A genetic predisposition — About 15% of breast cancers in men are linked to an inherited mutation in the BRCA2 gene.
- Klinefelter syndrome — It is a very rare inherited (genetic) disorder. In men with this syndrome, androgens are low and estrogen levels are high: both are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure — Previous exposure to radiation, especially to the chest, increases the risk of breast cancer in men.
- Cirrhosis of the liver — A liver damaged by cirrhosis increases estrogen levels and lowers androgens, both of which are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
Potential risk factors
The following factors have been linked to some form of breast cancer in men. The lack of studies on these factors, however, does not allow us to say that they are known risk factors.
- Gynecomastia (exaggerated breast development in men)
- Alcohol consumption
- Problems with the testes: undescended testicle (cryptorchidism), removal of one or both testes (orchiectomy), mumps in adulthood.
- Occupational exposure: steelworks, blast furnaces, rolling mills, gasoline vapors and exhaust gases.
Men with breast cancer most of the time have invasive ductal carcinoma; other types of breast cancer are very rare.
The symptoms, the course of the disease and the management of invasive ductal carcinoma (diagnosis, treatment, follow-up) are essentially identical in men and women.
Cancer diagnosed at an advanced stage
Some symptoms remain difficult to identify because this cancer rarely affects men. A lump can often be confused with a harmless cyst. Breast cancer only affects 0.5% of cancers in humans. In addition, it is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage.
The diagnosis is established on average around the age of 60. Depending on the stage of the cancer, the patient may undergo a mastectomy which involves excising the breast affected by the cancer. When the latter has had time to spread (metastasize), chemotherapy sessions are also prescribed to the patient. Radiation therapy sessions is also used to destroy or damage cancer cells.