The Untold Story of Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is often associated with women. This is evident in advertisements for breast cancer foundations and even through the international symbol of breast cancer awareness—the pink ribbon. Contrary to popular belief, however, breast cancer can and does occur in men, though not as commonly as in women. Besides the obvious physical and emotional impact that breast cancer can have on an individual, men with breast cancer also have to deal with unnecessary shame.

Male Breast Cancer

Under normal conditions, human cells grow and divide, as the body needs to replace damaged or old cells. However, cancer develops when the cell cycle is disrupted and old cells don’t die when they should, but new ones continue to grow and divide. This uncontrollable division is what causes tumors to form. Any type of cell in the body can become cancerous, including cells of the breast (which are present in both males and females).

The reason that breast cancer is less common in men than women is because their breast duct cells are less developed than those of women and they usually have lower levels of the female hormones, such as estrogen, which stimulate the growth of breast cells (both cancerous and non-cancerous ones).

There are different types of breast cancer in men, including some extremely rare types, such as inflammatory breast cancer, which do not form a tumor. The most common type of breast cancer in men is called Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). This type of cancer starts in the milk ducts of the breast then grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. Since males have smaller breasts than females, male breast cancers start close to the nipple.

Much of what we know about male breast cancer, including the signs and treatments, are based upon the knowledge gained from studies and cases of female breast cancer.

David Litman / Shutterstock.com
David Litman / Shutterstock.com

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for male breast cancer. As it is with women, one risk factor for developing the disease is increasing age. Another risk factor is high estrogen levels (as this hormone stimulates both cancerous and non-cancerous breast cell growth). Men with Klinefelter syndrome (a disorder in which males have multiple X chromosomes instead of just one) have a higher risk of developing breast cancer since they have higher levels of estrogen. A family history of breast cancer or genetic alterations, especially in the BRACA1 or BRACA 2 genes, also increases the likelihood of males developing breast cancer.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock.com
Image Point Fr / Shutterstock.com

Prevalence

Breast cancer is rare in males. In fact, it’s about 100 times less common among males than females. However, it still affects many men. It’s estimated that in the year 2016, 2600 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed in America and about 440 men will succumb to breast cancer.

Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.com
Dmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock.com
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