Yes, we’re talking about breast cancer here and since only women have breasts, why talk about men, right? Wrong.
Sadly, this is one of the many health myths that we’ve been living with all this while. If figures are to be believed, breast cancer though commonly occurring in women, affects around 1 in every 1000 men in America. In fact, the number of men with breast cancer has increased 25 percent over the last two decades. 
Experts say that many men ignore the early warning signs such as a lump in the breast or pain in the nipple as breast cancer is the last thing that’s on their mind. Besides, they’re too masculine to admit that they could be suffering from a disease that commonly affects women.
When breast cells divide more rapidly than normal, the excess cells form a tumor or lump that may spread to other parts of the body. The fact is that everyone, irrespective of the gender, is born with a small amount of breast tissue which consists of milk-producing glands, ducts that carry milk to the nipples and some amount of fat.
Breast cancer in men usually occurs either in the milk ducts (known as ductal carcinoma), or one that begins in the milk-producing glands (lobular carcinoma), or cancer that spreads to the nipple (Paget’s disease).
The Risk Factors
While men do have a lower risk of breast cancer, it’s often detected during the third or fourth stage of the disease when it cannot be cured. Knowing your risk factors can help you get treatment in time. Here’s what puts you at risk.
- Age: Age is a big risk factor for breast cancer in men. The average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is about 68.
- High Estrogen levels: The levels of estrogen control normal and abnormal breast cell growth in the body. Men who’re taking hormonal medications, are overweight, or have been exposed to estrogen through the environment, have high alcohol intake and those suffering from liver disease have high levels of estrogen, which increases their chances of having breast cancer.
- Family History: As is the case with women, a family history of breast cancer can increase the risk, particularly if other men in the family have had breast cancer. The risk is also higher if there is a proven breast cancer gene abnormality in the family. Men who inherit abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have an increased risk for male breast cancer.
- Klinefelter syndrome: This is a rare congenital condition in which males produce less of the hormone testosterone than usual. As testosterone usually helps to limit the effect of estrogen, men with Klinefelter syndrome are more likely to develop breast cancer than the general male population .
The first visible signs are usually a painless lump under the nipple or areola, a knot in the chest that a man may confuse with a muscle pull from a workout, inversion of the nipple, bloody nipple discharge or skin changes, such as an itchy, scaly nipple. Possible symptoms of breast cancer to watch out for include:
- A painless lump or swelling
- Nipple changes (dimple or puckering)
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
- Discharge from the nipple
However, sometimes there can be a lump or swelling under the arm or around the collar bone which should not be confused with cancer always as it can be caused by gynecomastia (a harmless enlargement of breast tissue) . However, it is always better to get yourself examined if you notice any of the above symptoms. Doctors advise that men above 50 should get a mammogram done on a yearly basis (or once in two years) to be on the safe side.
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1. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancerinmen/detailedguide/breast-cancer-in-men-what-is-breast-cancer-in-men (site accessed on October 23, 2015)
2. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-breast-male/Pages/Causes.aspx (site accessed on October 23, 2015)