Men don't have breasts. How can they get breast cancer?
Even though men do not have breasts like women, they do have a
small amount of breast tissue. In fact, the "breasts" of an adult man are
similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty, and consist of a few ducts
surrounded by fat and other tissue. In girls, this tissue grows and develops in
response to female hormones, but in men -- who do not secrete the same amounts
of these hormones -- this tissue does not develop.
However, because it is still breast tissue, men can develop
breast cancer. In fact, men get the same types of breast cancers that women do,
although cancers involving the milk-producing and storing regions of the breast
are very rare.
Why do I not hear about breast cancer in men as much as I hear about breast cancer in women?
Breast cancer in men is a very rare disease. This is possibly due to their
smaller amount of breast tissue and the fact that men produce smaller amounts of
hormones like estrogen that are known to affect breast cancers in women.
There are 1,400 cases of male breast cancer per year. In fact, only about 1% of all breast cancers affect men.
Which men are more likely to get breast cancer?
It is very rare for a man under age 35 to get breast cancer, but
the likelihood of developing the disease increases with age. Breast cancer is
most commonly diagnosed in men between age 50 and 70. Beyond that,
African-American men appear to be at greater risk than Caucasian men. In some
places in Africa, breast cancer in men is much more common. Also,
college-educated professionals appear to have a higher risk than the general
The clearest risk for developing breast cancer seems to be in
men who have had an abnormal enlargement of their breasts (called gynecomastia)
in response to drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons.
Obesity can also cause gynecomastia. Individuals with a rare genetic disease
called Klinefelter's syndrome, who often have gynecomastia as part of the
syndrome, are especially prone to develop breast cancer.
How serious is breast cancer in men?
Doctors used to think that breast cancer in men was a more
severe disease than it was in women, but it now seems that for comparably
advanced breast cancers, men and women have similar outcomes.
The major problem is that breast cancer in men is often diagnosed later than breast cancer in women. This may be because men are less likely to be suspicious of an abnormality in that area.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer in men?
Symptoms are very similar to those in women. Most male breast cancers are
diagnosed when a man discovers a lump on his chest. However, unlike women, men
tend to go to the doctor with more severe symptoms that often include bleeding
from the nipple and abnormalities in the skin above the cancer. The cancer has
already spread to the lymph nodes in a large number of these men.
How is breast cancer diagnosed and treated in men?
The same techniques -- physical exams, mammograms, and biopsies
(examining small samples of the tissue under a microscope) -- that are used to
diagnose breast cancer in women are also used in men.
The same four treatments that are used in treating breast cancer
in women -- surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormones -- are also used to
treat the disease in men. Mastectomy is the recommended surgery in men.
Many breast cancers in men have hormone receptors, that is, they
have specific sites on the cancer cells where specific hormones like estrogen
can act. Therefore, hormonal treatment in men is likely to be effective.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/27/2009...#9011