Men can get breast cancer, too
Vice President and Medical Director for Mission Cancer Care — More than 2,200 men in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
That statistic may come as a surprise to many people who associate breast cancer with women and the iconic pink ribbon, but men are also susceptible to the disease.
Breast cancer forms in breast tissue, which is present in both men and women. While the rate of occurrence is much higher in women than in men (the overall ratio of female to male breast cancer in the United States is 100 to 1), breast cancer can be fatal in both men and women.
An estimated 410 men are expected to die from male breast cancer this year. As with most cancers, early detection of breast cancer in men is important for successful treatment. Although survival rates for men and women are similar (adjusting for the stage of the disease at diagnosis), men are more likely than women to be diagnosed at a later stage because men do not typically undergo regular breast cancer screenings.
Men are also usually unaware that a mass or lump in their breast might actually be a cancer, so they delay seeking treatment. When a tumor is malignant, cancer cells can grow into surrounding tissues and spread to distant parts of the body. Because a male breast typically has a small amount of tissue, cancer cells can easily spread to the chest wall, posing a greater risk of developing additional tumors.
Male breast cancer typically affects older men between 60 and 70 years old, but it can occur at any age. Men with a family history of breast cancer should be particularly wary of the disease. Although there are several genes that contribute to breast cancer, mutations in two specific genes — can occur in men as well as women — are known to increase the odds of breast cancers: BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Men who carry a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have up to an 87 percent increased risk of developing cancer. Genetic testing can detect these mutations and help men make informed decisions about treatment and prophylactic procedures.
While most men might never meet another man with breast cancer, those who have had one or more relatives — male or female — who have been diagnosed with the disease should be on the lookout for symptoms of breast tumors. Common symptoms include a lump in the chest area, skin dimpling or puckering, or changes in the nipples.
These symptoms should be examined immediately by a physician. However, breast cancer can also occur without presenting symptoms, so anyone concerned about an increased risk of developing breast cancer should be screened.
Treatment options for male and female breast cancer are generally the same, and many men benefit from a combination of different treatments. Options include surgery, as well as chemotherapy, endocrine therapy, biological therapy and radiation therapy.
Mission Hospital’s nationally accredited Breast Program offers coordinated, compassionate care to both men and women with breast cancer. Coordinated care is critical to the disease because so many physician and healthcare services are involved in the diagnosis, treatment and support of the disease.
Mission Health’s Fullerton Genetics Center, which offers the region’s only genetic counseling and testing services, provides genetic testing for mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. At Fullerton Genetics Center, a team of experts is available to help interpret genetic mutations and cancer risk, provide genetic counseling and discuss treatment options with patients. For more information, call 213-0022.
Jeremy Geffen, MD, FACP is Vice President and Medical Director for Mission Cancer Care