Breast Cancer in Men: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Breast cancer in men is relatively rare compared to women, but this condition has the same severity. Check out an explanation of the symptoms, causes, and how to treat it in the following review,
What is Breast Cancer in Men?
Just like women, men also have breast tissue. Breast organs in men can also enlarge. This condition is known as gynecomastia and can be a sign of breast cancer.
Breast cancer in men is a rare disease that occurs when abnormal cells in a man’s breast grow out of control.
Cancer cells usually form a tumor that feels like a lump when touched or can be seen on an X-ray. Breast tumors can be benign or malignant (if malignant they are called cancer).
Malignant tumors can spread (metastasize) to more distant parts of the body and can multiply body cells. While benign tumors only cause cell enlargement without any metastases.
Breast cancer appears in various parts of the breast. Most breast cancer starts in the ducts that carry milk to the nipple (ductal cancer). Others start in the glands that make breast milk (lobular cancer). Men also have these ducts and glands, although they are usually not functional.
Also Read: 11 Important Steps in Addressing a Cancer Diagnosis
Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men
The symptoms that occur are the same as those experienced in women. The following are characteristics of breast cancer in men that can occur, including:
- A lump or swelling in the areola or under the nipple. The lump does not move when pressed, feels rubbery or hard, and is not painful.
- Discharge from the nipples.
- Nipples are pulled in or constricted.
- Redness or crusting of the nipple or breast skin.
- Rashes and sores on the nipples and areola that don’t go away.
- Lumps in the armpits due to swollen lymph nodes.
If the cancer has spread, you may experience breast tenderness, bone pain, tiredness during the day, shortness of breath, and itchy skin.
It is important to know, breast enlargement does not only indicate the symptoms and characteristics of breast cancer in men. This condition is also similar to gynecomastia which is caused by hormonal imbalance, obesity, or the use of certain drugs.
Therefore, it is important to see a doctor to get the right diagnosis and treatment.
When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?
The main symptom of breast cancer in men is a lump in the breast. See a doctor immediately if you have a breast lump or other worrying symptoms.
Survival and treatment rates for the disease are very similar to women. Early diagnosis of breast cancer can facilitate treatment options and usually reduces the risk of death from breast cancer.
Causes of Breast Cancer in Men
Until now, the exact cause of this condition is not known. However, cancer occurs when cells divide more uncontrollably than healthy cells.
The cells that accumulate then form a breast tumor which can spread (metastasize) to surrounding tissues, including to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.
Although the exact cause is unknown, there are several factors that can increase a man’s risk of developing breast cancer.
These factors include:
- Age. The risk of cancer increases with age. The cancer is most common in men over 50 years of age.
- Exposure to estrogen. Men who have or are currently taking drugs containing the hormone estrogen, such as drugs used for hormone therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer can increase their risk of breast cancer.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome. This condition occurs when baby boys are born with much higher levels of estrogen than male hormones (androgens). This is a major risk factor for cancer because this condition is 20 times more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Family history. Men have a higher risk of breast cancer if they have family members who have had breast cancer.
- genetic mutation. This condition is considered to play an important role in increasing the risk of cancer. For example, mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can increase the risk.
- Obesity. Being overweight or obese is associated with increased levels of estrogen in the body which increases the risk of this cancer.
- Liver disease. Certain conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver can reduce male hormones and increase female hormones (estrogen), thereby increasing the risk of cancer.
- Disease or surgery on the testicles. Experiencing inflammation of the testes (orchitis) or having surgery to remove the testicles (orchiectomy) may increase the risk of male breast cancer.
- Have had radiation therapy. Men who have received radiation therapy to the chest have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Also Read: 8 Foods That Can Help Prevent Breast Cancer
Diagnosis of Breast Cancer in Men
As a first step, the doctor will usually ask questions about symptoms, personal and family medical history, including a history of medications such as the use of estrogen or radiation therapy treatment.
If breast cancer is suspected, the doctor may perform a number of additional tests, including:
The doctor can do a physical examination using his fingertips to check for lumps in and around the breast. The doctor can determine how big the lump is, how it feels and how close it is to the skin or muscle.
This test can produce images of breast tissue that allow the doctor to identify areas of the breast that may indicate cancer. Imaging tests, including mammography and ultrasound (ultrasound)
The biopsy procedure usually uses a special needle to remove a small amount of breast tissue; previously given anesthesia so as not to hurt. The tissue sample is then examined under a microscope to detect cancer cells.
Treatment of Breast Cancer in Men
Treatment basically depends on the stage of the cancer and overall health. Here are some ways to treat male breast cancer, including:
The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and surrounding breast tissue, for example in the armpits and some of the muscles under the breast. Several types of breast surgery, including:
- Mastectomy. Removal of all breast tissue, including nipples and areola.
- Breast conserving surgery (breast conserving surgery). Removal of only part of the breast.
- Lumpectomy. Removal of lymph nodes affected by cancer.
2. Radiation Therapy
This therapy uses high-energy rays, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to remove any remaining cancer cells in the breasts, chest muscles, or armpits.
Treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Medicines are given by injection in the arm and pill form or by both.
Doctors may suggest chemotherapy after surgery to kill cancer cells that have spread around the breast, but are not visible during surgery. Chemotherapy may be an option for advanced breast cancer.
Chemotherapy can also be given before surgery to reduce the size of the cancer if it is too big.
4. Hormone therapy
If the cancer is sensitive to hormones, people with breast cancer may be advised hormone therapy. This therapy usually uses the drug tamoxifen.
Other hormone therapy drugs used for women with this disease have not been proven effective for men.
5. Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy is a cancer treatment that specifically targets cancer cells using drugs to inhibit chemical signals at the cell stage, growth rate and division of cancer cells.
Complications of Breast Cancer in Men
Complications that occur usually arise as a result of side effects from medication, such as surgery. Mastectomy is a surgical procedure that causes side effects such as:
- Pain and discomfort for 1 to 2 weeks.
- Numbness or tingling around the scar and upper arm. This condition will disappear a few weeks or months, but sometimes permanent.
- Wound infection, redness, swelling, warmth, or sores.
- Painful swelling in the arm (lymphoedema) that may be permanent, but is treatable.
Also Read: Is High Cholesterol Really Linked to Breast Cancer?
How to Prevent Breast Cancer in Men
Given that the cause of this condition is not known with certainty, there is no way to prevent it. However, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of breast cancer, including:
1. Maintain Ideal Body Weight
Being overweight can disrupt the balance of hormones in the body which makes men more likely to get this cancer.
If you are obese, it is best to consult your doctor or nutritionist about a healthy eating and exercise plan.
2. Diligent Sports
Lack of physical activity can change hormone levels, a condition that makes men more susceptible to cancer. Therefore, it is recommended that you do 150 minutes of exercise per week.
You can do sports such as swimming, dancing, running, or walking. Choose activities that you like so you don’t have to do sports.
3. Not Consuming Alcoholic Beverages
Regular consumption of too many alcoholic beverages is associated with an increased risk of female breast cancer.
Although the impact on men is not known for certain, it is better to reduce or even avoid it altogether as a way to prevent breast cancer in men.
4. Be diligent to see a doctor
If you have a family member who has breast cancer, you should be diligent to see a doctor. Although it cannot be prevented, early detection of cancer will facilitate treatment and increase the chances of recovery.
The earlier the disease is detected, the greater the chance for the patient to recover. I hope this information is helpful.
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- Anonymous. 2020. Male Breast Cancer: Overview. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-breast-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20374740. (Accessed 21 February 2023).
- Kraft, Sy. 2021. What’s To Know About Male Breast Cancer?. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/179457. (Accessed February 21, 2023)
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