You don’t hear about it often, but men can also get breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about 2,000 men in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles, recently went on Good Morning America to share about his battle with cancer. In a first-person exclusive, he says, “My mother’s sister died of breast cancer, my mother’s sister’s two and only daughters died of breast cancer and my sister-in-law died in March of breast cancer […] so breast cancer has been all around me.”
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 when their cancer is in an advanced stage, making it harder to treat. Late diagnosis may reflect the notion that men don’t think of themselves as having any risk for breast cancer.
That’s why education around breast cancer warnings in men and recommendations for prevention are so important.
“Women are instructed on when to get mammograms and maintain regular screenings,” says Lisa Minton, M.D., a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer. “Although a diagnosis is rare, men need to know the same things.”
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 only about one percent of all cases).
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, where the breast is red and swollen
- Intraductal carcinoma (ductal carcinoma in situ) that affects the duct lining
- Paget disease, which affects 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.
“One of many reasons it’s important to keep up with your annual physicals is so that your primary care doctor can be your first line of defense against new developments or unusual changes in your health,” said Dr. Minton.
“With rare diseases like male breast cancer, it’s easier to recognize symptoms early when you have some history with a doctor who knows you well."
Diagnosing Breast Cancer in Men
Depending on your condition, you 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.
After finding spots of blood on his shirts, Mathew Knowles visited his doctor and took the BRCA genetic test. The results indicated a mutation on his BRCA2 gene.
These events prompted his care team to develop a treatment plan to beat the diagnosis.
Treating Breast Cancer in Men
Men have the same options for breast cancer treatment as women. These usually include:
Taken by mouth or intravenously, these medicines work throughout the body to kill cancer cells or stop them from dividing. Because chemotherapy also damages your immune system, you’ll receive instructions about how to avoid infection, including colds.
Hormone therapy can help remove hormones from your system or block their functions to stop cancer cell growth.
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.
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.
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, or any cancer, you can learn your risk factors and which types of cancer pose the greatest risk. A genetic counselor will review your family history and your health history. Depending on the results, you may wish to have genetic testing. This will give you information on your risk factors for specific hereditary types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Schedule a Cancer Screening
Cancer specialists at AdventHealth are here to help screen for, diagnose and treat breast cancer with the latest technologies and treatments available. If you or a loved one is concerned about your cancer risk, we are here to guide you. Learn more about our full continuum of cancer care today.