Unfortunately, nearly all of us know someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of the diagnosed individuals you know are likely female, but that doesn’t mean breast cancer can’t affect males, too. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 2,620 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men this year. Of those, experts anticipate that 520 of those men will die from the disease.
How breast cancer will affect men in 2020:*
*Estimate stats from The American Cancer Society
Now’s a good time to have the puberty talk.
The American Cancer Society explains that breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control. Here’s the deal: While males have far less breast tissue than females, it’s still there.
Until the approximate age of 9 or 10, all children have a small amount of breast tissue. In that tissue, there are ducts located under and around the nipple. Since females have ovaries, they begin to produce female hormones at puberty. This increase in hormones causes female breast ducts to grow and lobules to form at the end of the ducts. In other words: Females end up with more breast tissue as they grow.
Here’s the thing — while males usually have low levels of female hormones after puberty, the breast tissue they do have still has ducts and sometimes lobules. And that’s where different types of breast cancer form.
Consider your risk factors.
Most risk factors are related to your hormone levels. This goes for everyone. And as with breast cancer in females, the medical community can’t pinpoint the exact cause. But we can tell you that certain factors increase your risk.
Risk factors for breast cancer in people born male:
Age. The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. The American Cancer Society reports men with breast cancer are most often diagnosed when they’re about 72 years old.
Family history. If you have immediate family members (a parent, sibling, or child) who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s time to talk to your doctor. About 20% of men diagnosed with cancer report a close relative who has also been diagnosed with the disease.
Genes. Or more specifically, the mutation of genes. If you have multiple family members who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, go ahead and let your doctor know. There are a few genetic gene mutations that can increase your risk of breast cancer by a small, yet significant, number. You can learn more about it here.
Testicular conditions. Hang in there, folks. Certain conditions such as undescended testicles, the surgical removal of a testicle, and a rare thing called Klinefelter syndrome — a congenital syndrome — can all increase your risk of developing breast cancer.
Lifestyle and environment. Heavy drinking (which contributes to liver disease, which then contributes to hormone imbalances), estrogen-related drugs that may have been used in the past to treat prostate cancer, radiation exposure, and obesity (which also contributes to abnormal changes in sex hormones).
Think you’re at risk? Look for these symptoms.
The challenge of early detection.
Let’s start with awareness. Because breast cancer develops more often in females, they are historically more aware of the risks, signs, and screenings that can help with detection. Males, especially men, tend to dismiss lumps and bumps, writing them off as an infection, or ignoring the mass altogether.
Another more obvious difference between males and females is breast size. Since males have a smaller amount of breast tissue, it can be easier to feel out and find small masses. That’s the good news. The downside to smaller breast tissue is that masses can reach further (into lymph nodes, for example) by growing just a little. Yet another reason not to ignore a lump if you find one.
So are there breast cancer screenings for males?
Yes. They’re pretty much the same as for females. If you find a lump or bump, or you realize your risk factors are adding up, don’t waste time checking in with your doctor. If your doctor determines there’s something abnormal in your tissue, you’ll likely be headed for a breast ultrasound or mammogram.
Think you found something out of the ordinary? Book a same-day appointment at Carbon Health and talk to a healthcare provider about what’s going on. They are here to offer support and listen to your concerns. You are not alone. Carbon Health is here to listen.