Even though the odds of men getting breast cancer are low, it’s still important for them to know about it
Breast cancer? For guys? Sounds more like a myth than a real medical issue, right? You might even be thinking, “I didn’t even know men had breasts!” But guess what? While it’s rare, men can and do get breast cancer.
Here are answers to your top five questions about breast cancer in men.
1: Can men get breast cancer?
The short answer, yes. Most of us think of breast cancer as something that only affects women, but men also have breast tissue. While breast tissue in men is less prominent than in women, it can still develop cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in every 833 men get breast cancer in their lifetime.
2. What are the risk factors for breast cancer in men?
Just because you have risk factors for breast cancer doesn’t mean you’ll get it. But it’s worth knowing your risk so you can take steps to lower it, if necessary.
Check out these risk factors and then check in with your doctor. You might not want to talk about it or even think about it, but you can get ahead of any potential health concerns with this knowledge.
Age: Most breast cancers develop in men over age 50.
Family history: Do you have close relatives (parents, siblings, kids) with breast cancer? This bumps up your risk.
Genetics: Your mom or dad can pass down BRCA gene mutations. According to a large study, men with a BRCA2 gene mutation have an 8% higher risk of breast cancer compared to men without inherited cancer syndrome.
Radiation exposure: Have you had radiation therapy in the neck or chest area in the past? While you would have needed it at the time, it can increase breast cancer risk in the long-term.
Liver disease: Liver disease or cirrhosis in men can increase the production of estrogen, which can feed hormone-receptor-positive (HR+) or hormone-positive breast cancer. Heavy alcohol use, obesity and Type 2 diabetes are not only risk factors for liver disease but also other cancers and health conditions.
Obesity: More fat = more estrogen. Keep an eye on your weight.
No one can 100% control if they get breast cancer or not. But if you have a higher-than-average risk of developing it, there are things you can do to lower your risk: Stay active, eat well, moderate how much alcohol you drink and don’t smoke.
Related content: Can 3 minutes of daily exercise extend your life?
3. What are the signs of breast cancer in men?
Now that we’ve got the risks down, what about symptoms? What should you be looking for?
A lump in the chest that is usually painless. If you feel something weird, don’t shrug it off.
Skin dimpling. Think of an orange peel’s texture. Not what you want on your pecs.
Nipple retraction. If your nipple is acting shy and pulling inward, it might be a sign of breast cancer.
Redness or scaling doesn’t mean you're turning into a dragon; it might be a breast cancer symptom.
Nipple discharge isn’t normal for guys. See a doc if this happens.
4. What are the diagnosis and treatment options for men with breast cancer?
All right, say you’ve spotted a symptom. What’s next? First, high-five yourself for being observant. Then, see your doctor. They might suggest:
A mammogram: Yep, it’s not just for women. Think of it as a chest X-ray.
An ultrasound: This gives a closer look at any suspicious lumps or bumps in your chest.
A biopsy: An interventional radiologist will snatch a tiny bit of tissue for testing.
If tests confirm breast cancer, your treatment plan will depend on the type of cancer it is and where it’s located. Your care team should also prepare a personalized plan of action and consider your health goals and lifestyle.
There are plenty of breast cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy and medications. It’s all about tailoring treatments to what you need.
5. Is early detection a guy’s best protection against breast cancer?
If you are experiencing any symptoms or abnormalities, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. While going to the doctor might not be at the top of your “fun things to do” list, early detection is crucial. Catching breast cancer early can lead to effective treatment and better outcomes.
The bottom line: While breast cancer in men is rare, being aware of it can make all the difference. Keep an eye on your breast cancer risk, know the symptoms and see your doctor if something feels off. Remember, early detection is crucial. Here’s to keeping your pecs and knowledge in peak condition.
Lisa D. Curcio, MD, board-certified and fellowship-trained breast surgeon reviewed this article.