Though breast cancer is a condition commonly associated with women, males between the ages of 60 and 70 may develop breast cancer (with a small number showing signs at a younger age).
Diagnoses are rare, and though most consider the lack of visible breasts enough of a sign that breast cancer is not a risk, men still carry a small amount of fatty tissue behind the nipple where the malignant cells can develop.
There are significant differences between male and female breast cancer, primarily in how advanced the disease is by diagnosis and the lack of awareness and knowledge about what to do when the signs present themselves.
Causes and warning signs
There are a number of reasons that men can develop breast cancer. Among them can be exposure to radiation in the chest area as part of a treatment for something else (for example, Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
Some men also experience higher levels of estrogen as a result of hereditary genetics or as a symptom of diseases like Klinefelter’s Syndrome or cirrhosis of the liver. Obesity can also lead to breast enlargement in men, which can put them more at risk, along with certain medications which can increase estrogen levels.
Like some women, men can also be at risk of breast cancer due to a familial disposition towards the condition, especially in the case of males who have several female relatives with breast cancer.
In most men, breast cancer is often recognised as a painless lump beneath the nipple or areola, but other signs can also include:
- the nipple turning in (inverting)
- changes in the size or shape of the breast
- a rash around the nipple
- discharge or bleeding from the nipple
- a swelling or lump in the armpit
- an ulcer on the skin of the breast
If you notice any of these signs, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you suspect that you may have breast cancer, visiting your doctor is the best option. Diagnosis can be determined by a physical exam, clinical breast exam, ultrasound exam or an MRI. Blood chemical tests or a biopsy may also be used to find out the prognosis.
The prognosis, or chance of recovery, is affected by the stage and type of cancer, the estrogen and testosterone receptor levels in the tumor tissue, whether the both breasts are affected, as well as the patient’s age and general health.
Once a prognosis has been determined, a treatment plan will be worked out. Treatment follows many of the same processes applied to women with breast cancer, including a mastectomy or lumpectomy as well as radiation therapy.
In some cases, chemotherapy will also be used for treatment.
The type of treatment plan is really based upon the prognosis, which varies from patient to patient.
Most individuals tend to think that the process of treating breast cancer ends with treatment. However, post-treatment, many patients find themselves overcome with many different emotions.
During treatment, getting through the day to day might have taken up all attention, leaving no room to deal with the emotions and changes associated with being diagnosed and then treated.
There is no telling what your emotional state and head space will look like, but almost everyone who has been through treatment has benefited from some kind of support. Support can come in many forms: friends and family; groups that meet weekly; online spaces and forums.
The cancer journey can be very lonely, and it can have a detrimental effect on you, if you try to deal with everything on your plate alone. Whatever form your support takes, remember that you can go there with your concerns, your struggles, or if you just need to talk.
If you need assistance or help with establishing or accessing support, you can contact The Cancer Association of South Africa on their toll-free hotline: 0800 22 66 22.
American Cancer Society. (2016, 09 15). What happens after treatment for breast cancer in men? Retrieved from American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancerinmen/detailedguide/breast-cancer-in-men-after-emotional-health
Macmillan Cancer Support. (2015). Signs And Symptoms Of Breast Cancer. Retrieved from We Are Macmillian. Cancer Support: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-in-men/understanding-cancer/signs-symptoms-breast-cancer-in-men.html
Macmillan Cancer Support. (2015). Types Of Breast Cancer in Men. Retrieved from We Are MacMillan. Cancer Support: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-in-men/understanding-cancer/types-of-breast-cancer-in-men.html
Male breast cancer. (2016, August 28). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_breast_cancer
National Cancer Institute. (2016, July 18). Male Breast Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. Retrieved from National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/male-breast-treatment-pdq
Stöppler, M. C. (2016, February 25). Male Breast Cancer. (W. C. Jr, Editor) Retrieved from MedicineNet.com: http://www.medicinenet.com/male_breast_cancer/page2.htm