Breast Cancer Awareness

Rick Patrick
ECB Publishing, Inc.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and although it is a good time for women everywhere to become aware of this potentially devastating disease, men should know that they can contract breast cancer as well. Although rare, Male Breast Cancer (MBC) does happen and men should be aware of the risks and what they can do to catch the disease in its early stages, when it is much easier to treat.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 2,700 new cases of MBC are expected to be diagnosed this year. Close to 500 men are expected to die from the disease. On average, one in 833 men will be diagnosed with MBC. Just as it is with black women, black men with an MBC diagnosis tend to have a worse prognosis (outlook) than their white counter-parts.
Although there are no guarantees, there are certain risk factors that are believed to contribute to the likelihood of contracting MBC. One of these is age.
The risk of getting MBC goes up with age. On average, the age at which men are most likely to develop MBC is 72. A family history of breast cancer can also be a factor. Men with a blood relative, male or female, who have or had breast cancer are more likely to develop MBC.
Since the liver plays a large role in balancing sex hormones, men with liver disease, such as cirrhosis, could be at greater risk. For this same reason, heavy alcohol drinking can be a contributing factor. Men who have had estrogen-related drugs as treatment for prostate cancer could be at higher risk for MBC.
Just as obesity can increase a woman's risk for breast cancer, it can also increase a man's risk. This is because fat cells in the body convert male hormones (androgens) into female hormones (estrogens). Higher levels of estrogen has been linked with a higher risk of MCB. There are certain other conditions, such as having an undescended testicle or contracting mumps as an adult that could increase the risk of MBC.
Just as other forms of cancer, MCB is more easily and effectively treated if it is caught early. The lack of awareness of MCB may prevent some men from obtaining a proper diagnosis and treatment. Because men have less breast tissue than women, it can be easier to detect lumps. However, because there is less tissue in which the cancer can grow, it often spreads to other areas more quickly. In about 40 percent of the cases, by the time MCB is detected, it has progressed to stage three or stage four. As a result, survival rates are lower in men than it is in women. Here are a few warning signs and symptoms:
• A lump or swelling, which is often (but not always) painless
• Skin dimpling or puckering
• Nipple retraction (turning inward)
• Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
• Discharge from the nipple
If you experience any of these, bring it to your physician's attention right away.
With early detection, the five-year survival rates for MCB can be good. Again, according to the American Cancer Society, the chances of surviving five years or more after diagnosis are:
• 96 percent when cancer affects only the breast tissue at diagnosis
• 83 percent when it affects nearby areas as well as the breast
• 23 percent when it has spread to other parts of the body
In order to reduce your risk of MBC; lose weight, if needed; exercise regularly, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.