Male Breast Cancer can be defined as the proliferation of cancer cells in the breast tissue of men. Unlike the common stigma that breast cancer happens only in women, it is diagnosed in men as well, in the little amount of breast tissue they have. Although it can occur at any age, this type of cancer is usually noticed at an older age. Also Read: Breast Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Generally, the breast tissue in an adult man is similar to the breast tissue of a young girl before she hits puberty. However, in girls, the breast tissue gradually develops whereas in men it stops. This is one reason that any lump or suspicious tissue hardening goes unnoticed in men and in most cases, breast cancer in men gets diagnosed at a much later stage. But unlike breast cancer in women, cancer of the milk-producing glands or the parts that are involved in the production of milk is quite rare in men. Also Read: World Breast Cancer Month: Debunking 5 Common Breast Cancer Myths
There are three common types of breast cancer noticed in men:
Ductal Carcinoma: This type of breast cancer accounts for nearly all types of breast cancer and usually begins in the milk ducts.
Lobular Carcinoma: This is a rare type of male breast cancer and usually begins in the milk-producing glands or the few lobules that men have in their breast tissue.
Other rare types of breast cancer usually include inflammatory breast cancer and Paget’s disease.
Although just like any other type of cancer, the exact cause of breast cancer in men is still undiscovered, yet most researches show that it usually occurs due to abnormal multiplication of some of the breast cells more than the healthier ones. These cells spread and divide rapidly without dying and accumulate to form tumorous structures. These tumors metastasize and may spread to nearby tissues, lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Some causative factors that increase the risk of breast cancer include:
Age: The risk of breast cancer is most often diagnosed in men in their 60s.
Medications: Medications used for hormone-therapy or drugs related to estrogen aggravates the risk of breast cancer in men.
Family History: A person having a family history of breast cancer is more prone to having it.
Genetic Factor: Boys having Klinefelter’s syndrome, a condition where a person is born with more than one copy of the X chromosome is more at risk of getting breast cancer. This condition causes abnormal development of the testicles which leads to lower levels of male hormone (i.e. androgens) and high concentration of female hormone (i.e. estrogens).
Liver Disease: Certain liver problems like cirrhosis of the liver can cause a reduction in the levels of male hormone in the body and increase female hormones ultimately leading to male breast cancer.
Obesity: Quite often even obesity increases estrogen in the male body and reduces testosterone and hence increases the risk of male breast cancer.
Testicle disease or surgery: A diseased condition, such as inflammation in the testicles (i.e. orchitis) or surgery to remove the testicles (i.e. orchiectomy) increases the risk of male breast cancer.
Although the symptoms are similar to that of women, the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Painless lump or thickening or hardening in the breast tissue
- Changes to the skin covering your breast, such as redness, scaling, dimpling, or puckering
- Changes to your nipple, such as redness or scaling
- Nipple becoming hard and inflamed, and becoming sore (i.e. nipple ulceration)
- Fluid leaking from nipple (nipple discharge)
- Nipple turning in on itself (nipple retraction)
If the cancer is not diagnosed on time, it might gradually spread to other parts of the body and cause severe symptoms including:
- Swelling of the lymph nodes or glands usually in or around the armpit
- Bone pain
- Shortness of breath
- General weakness
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, do consult a doctor right away to start the treatment at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough physical checkup by looking for any lumps or unusual hardening at the breast. The doctor then acknowledges the patient’s family history and past medical history to know about the exact causative factor and may perform some diagnostics including:
- Clinical breast exam
- Imaging techniques like Bone scan, Ultrasound, CT-scan, or PET-scan
Treatment options usually depend upon the extent of spreading of the cancerous cells and includes:
- Surgery (this includes mastectomy, i.e. removal of all breast tissue and Sentinel lymph node biopsy i.e. removal of a few lymph nodes for testing)
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
Types Of Male Breast Cancer
Male breast cancer is usually of 4 types:
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: Invasive a.k.a infiltrating ductal carcinoma is the most common category of breast cancer in people regardless of their gender. In this type, the abnormal cancerous cells usually originate in the breast ducts and gradually metastasize to other parts of the breast tissue or other areas of the body.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: Cancer cells initiate in the lobules (milk-producing glands) within the breast. Just like invasive ductal, lobular breast cancer can also spread to other parts of the body.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS): Ductal carcinoma in situ is quite rare in men and the cancer cells mainly thrive in the lining of the breast ducts. But unlike the previous two types, they generally remain contained and do not spread to other parts of the breast or the rest of the body.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer: It is a type of invasive ductal carcinoma and a rare form of breast cancer in men. The breast tissue in this type becomes swollen and red. Although there is no presence of a lump, the skin surface is dimpled and feels warm to the touch.
Paget’s Disease Of The Nipple: Also termed as Paget’s disease of the breast or mammary Paget disease, in this case, the cancer cells originate in the ducts and spread to the nipples and the region around the nipples.
Although certain risks for breast cancer like age, family history etc are beyond our control, there are some that we can easily regulate including obesity, consumption of tobacco and alcohol etc.
We bring you some tips to help lower your incidence of getting breast cancer:
Obesity: Try to maintain a balanced weight as excessive BMI can shift the hormone balance in the body, making one more prone to getting breast cancer. If you’re obese, consult with a fitness expert and a dietitian to chalk out a healthy routine with a well-balanced diet plan and exercise regimen
Avoid Or Limit Alcohol Intake: Several pieces of research have linked an increase in breast cancer in women to regular consumption of two or more alcoholic drinks. While the link isn’t as clear in men, it’s still better to restrict and gradually stop the intake of alcohol.
In case male breast cancer is hereditary, there might not be any way to prevent it even if you follow a healthy lifestyle. However, you can detect it at an early stage by understanding your risk. It is better if you consult with a genetic specialist and consider undergoing genetic testing to discern if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. Certain changes in these genes aggravate the risk of male breast cancer. People with these genetic changes should make it a habit of getting screened at regular intervals to avoid complications.