Breast cancer is often considered a women’s issue. It evokes images of pink ribbons and women championing their bodies and checking their breasts. What it doesn’t evoke is an image of the men suffering from the very same disease but actually, breast cancer can affect both genders. The American Cancer Society states that by the end of 2015, there will have been 231,840 new cases of breast cancer amongst women and 2,350 cases of male breast cancer. Of those 2,350, 440 will die. Whilst the number of women suffering from the disease is substantially higher than the rate amongst men, male breast cancer is generally diagnosed and is often more dangerous.
Male Breast Cancer
Invasive ductal breast cancer is the most common form of breast cancer in men, and it affects hormonal receptors. Around 85% of male breast cancers is found in estrogen receptors in cell membranes which allow estrogen molecules to bind to the cancer. This stimulates growth and multiplication. This means that those with higher levels of estrogen, such as men with Klinefelter’s Syndrome, are more likely to develop breast cancer. It’s also closely linked to family ties too, and around one in five male breast cancer sufferers have a first degree male relative (such as a father or brother) with a history of breast cancer.
Janell Seeger MD, an oncologist at the Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, KY, suggests that the lack of breast tissue on men is both a blessing and a curse. The smaller amount of tissue means that lumps are more likely to be noticed but it also means that the cancer can grow much faster and travel to the nipple, skin, and lymph nodes. By time that it is detected, then, the cancer has already spread and has begun to affect other parts of the body.
On the whole, male breast cancer is treated in the same way as female breast cancer. A mastectomy will remove all the breast tissue and hormone therapy is used to block estrogen so that it is unable to enter, and hence aid, the cancerous cells. Lynda Weeks, the executive director at the Susan G. Komen Institute claims that male breast cancer affects around “one in 1,000 men […] but typically, men are diagnosed at a later stage,” meaning that the diagnosis can be more serious. To make matters worse, it’s on the rise.
Between 1830 and 1840, there were five reported cases of male breast cancer. Compare that to the 2015 figure above, and the rise in incidence is staggering. Dr. Anita Aggarwal, an oncologist at Washington DC VA Medical Centre says that although male sufferers accounts for less than one per cent of all breast cancers, incidents of male breast cancer saw an increase of 26% between 1975 and 2010. It’s still steadily increasing too, but why?
Ultimately, scientists do not know why male breast cancer is on the rise, although many have their suspicions. Gene mutation definitely plays a part, as the mutated gene BRAC2 is found in around five per cent of all male breast cancers, although men are much less likely to be screened for the gene. Alternatively, Professor Valerie Speirs of the Leeds Institute of Cancer and Pathology at St. James’ University Hospital believes that, like many increases in diseases, the rise in male breast cancer could be a result of lifestyle factors. With diets being high in sugar and general life being more sedentary than in previous generations, modern lifestyle may be responsible for this current rise. “Intriguingly,” Speirs says, “in work published earlier this year in the open access journal BMC Medicine, they have shown a very close link between rising levels of obesity and increases in male breast cancer.” Whilst the evidence is only coincidental at the moment, this suggested link is something that is worth investigating further.
In the meantime, all we can do is raise awareness of the issue. It’s estimated that 80% of men don’t realize that male breast cancer even exists, and those that do raise concerns with their doctor are often turned away. Professor John Boyages, oncologist and author of Male Breast Cancer: Taking Control, claims to have seen many patients who “have seen their doctor with a lump or discharge from the nipple, [only] to be told it was a fatty lump or man boobs, or enlarged tender breasts due to hormonal imbalance or medications.” By raising awareness, cases of male breast cancer will potentially be diagnosed earlier, meaning that the survival rate will be much improved.
Check It Out
In this spirit, campaigners argue that men should be encouraged to check their breasts in the same way as women, and should they come across anything unusual, they should consult their doctor immediately. These symptoms could include painless or painful lumps, discharge or oozing nipples, swelling, an ulcer or a sore on the breast skin, or the nipple being pulled inwards. So while scientists work hard to find the causes and discover solutions to the breast cancer problem, everyone, regardless of gender, needs to take time to give themselves an examination and get it checked out!
 Sasha Henriques, 2015, The Alarming Reason You Should be Concerned that Male Breast Cancer is On the Rise [online], Available at: http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/wellness/a52337/male-breast-cancer-is-on-the-rise/. [Accessed 12/22/2015]
 Sy Kraft BA, 2015, What is Male Breast Cancer? [online], Available at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/179457.php. [Accessed 12/22/2015]
 Sy Kraft BA, Ibid.
 Judith Potts, 2015, The Rise of Male Breast Cancer [online], Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/health-advice/male-breast-cancer-health-advice-men-Judith-Potts/. [Accessed 12/22/2015]
 Sy Craft BA, Ibid.
 Judith Potts, ibid.
 Mitch Mirkin, 2014, Male Breast Cancer: A Rare Disease, on the Rise [online], Available at: http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/october/male-breast-cancer-a-rare-disease-on-the-rise.asp. [Accessed 12/22/2015]
 Judith Potts, Ibid.
 Sasha Henrique, Ibid.
 Judith Potts, Ibid.
Breast cancer: An increasingly male concern by UrbanSculpt staff writer Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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