Yes — Men Can Get Breast Cancer

A group of men resting on the sidelines during a game of basketball.
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You don’t hear about it often, but men can also get breast cancer. In fact, the singer Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles, recently announced his breast cancer diagnosis.

Knowles is included in the National Cancer Institute’s most recent numbers, stating that there are about 2,000 men in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

Although breast cancer can occur in women and men at any age, it most often affects women ages 55 to 64 and men ages 60 to 70. And, unfortunately, men also tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, making it more challenging to treat.

Late diagnosis may reflect the false belief or stigma that men are not at risk for breast cancer, or they delay seeking help feeling as if this diagnosis falls outside of conventional gender norms.

That’s why the Food and Drug Administration is urging researchers to include more men in breast cancer studies and clinical trials of new treatments.

This level of FDA support speaks volumes, as it raises the discussion around men with breast cancer and focuses on developing evidence-based treatment guidelines that help normalize this diagnosis among men and even the medical community.

Todd Guffey’s Story

Todd Guffey, Director of Imaging at AdventHealth Hendersonville, shared his close call with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Around 2003, he was performing a routine self-exam when he noticed a lump in his right breast. Being a health care professional, he knew he needed to get it examined by his primary care provider, who later sent him to get a series of diagnostic exams including ultrasounds and mammograms.

When the tests came back abnormal, Guffey was referred to a breast surgeon who recommended removing the lump and sending it to pathology to make a diagnosis.

“The waiting was the hardest part. The weeks between diagnostic tests and surgery — that can “hurt” the most,” shares Guffey.

Thankfully, Guffey’s results came back negative for cancer. But his own personal journey as well as his experiences with patients have paved a greater calling in his life as an advocate for speaking out about male breast cancer.

“To all men: It’s rare, but you don’t want to be the number. Do your monthly breast exams. Get your annual physicals and ask your doctor to do the exam, too. The earlier you find it, the earlier interventions can start with better outcomes,” advises Guffey.

He adds, “And to women who have a man in their life that they love and care for — encourage them to do self-exams and be aware of male breast cancer, too.”

Where Breast Cancer Starts in Men

Cells almost anywhere in the body can become cancerous and spread to other areas. Men have the same type of breast tissue as women, although it doesn’t develop like theirs. This means men are also at risk for breast cancer (although men make up only about 1% of all cases).

Surprisingly, men and women have similar breast anatomy and tissue. Most breast cancers in men start the same as in women, in the ducts that carry milk.

Other types of breast cancer are:

  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Intraductal carcinoma (ductal carcinoma in situ)
  • Paget disease (affecting ducts beneath the breast’s surface tissue)

Breast Cancer Symptoms in Men

Because men don’t have regular mammograms — and since lumps on the breast don’t usually cause pain — you may not notice a lump in your breast right away.

Other symptoms may develop, such as:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple turns inward like a dimple
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin

Breast cancer can spread to lymph nodes under your arm or around your collarbone. It can cause a lump or swelling there, even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to feel.

This is why it’s important to keep up with your annual physicals. Your primary care doctor can be your first line of defense against new developments or unusual changes in your health.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer in Men

Similar to women, men may have a diagnostic mammogram, breast ultrasound and breast biopsy. These tests, respectively, use X-ray, sound waves and tissue samples to diagnose breast cancer.

“Since I’ve been through the experience personally, we’ve made a major effort to help patients throughout the diagnostic process by shortening wait times and facilitating their tests and results as quick as possible,” says Guffey.

Treating Breast Cancer in Men

Men have the same options for breast cancer treatment as women. These usually include:

Chemotherapy

Taken by mouth or intravenously, these medicines work throughout the body to kill cancer cells or stop them from dividing.

Hormone Therapy

According to the American Cancer Society, hormone receptor-positive breast cancers account for nine out of 10 diagnoses among men. Therefore, hormone therapy can help remove hormones from your system or block their functions to stop cancer cell growth.

Radiation Therapy

X-ray or other types of radiation kill cancer cells or stop growth. External beam radiation therapy directs high-energy radiation to the tumor to kill cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy uses radioactive “seeds” placed directly on or near the tumor to kill it.

Surgery

For men, this is usually a modified radical mastectomy to remove the breast, lymph nodes under the arms, the lining over the chest muscles and, sometimes, part of the chest wall muscles.

Targeted Therapy

Taken by mouth or intravenously, advanced medicines kill cancer cells by disrupting the growth process without damaging normal cells. Targeted therapy is often combined with chemotherapy to improve survival rates.

Genetic Counseling and Testing

Although there’s no sure way to prevent breast cancer, you can learn more about your risk factors through genetic testing. A genetic counselor can review your family history and your health history and help you determine if genetic testing for breast cancer is appropriate for you.

Prioritize Your Primary Care

The first line of defense against breast cancer in men is similar to women: do self-exams and get checked annually by your primary care provider. If you are concerned or want to talk about your breast cancer risk, we are here to guide you to the answers you need.

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