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Can men get breast cancer?

Readers Lounge By Esther Muchene
Men too have breast tissue (Photo: Shutterstock)

Yes, men too can get breast cancer.

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With the simple reason being, both male and female have breast tissues.

Although men lack milk-producing breasts, the breast cells and tissues of a man's breast can still develop cancer. However, it is still rare since statistics show that only one in a thousand men will be diagnosed with cancer in a lifetime.

However, it does occur in men and most commonly in older men. This does not negate other age groups either, the younger the man the better chance he has of responding to treatment.

To understand this monster for what it is and to help you take necessary steps should you suspect you may have symptoms of cancer, keep reading.

One way that men can detect breast cancer is by feeling a hard lump underneath the areola and nipple area. As compared to women, men have a higher mortality rate because of very little awareness and are less likely to assume that the lump underneath their breast could be cancerous. This leads to delays in seeking treatment and diagnosis on time.

Men who develop breast cancer have shown a similarity in how it spreads. In many documented cases, it begins in a small area in or around glands and ducts which produce milk and carry it to the nipple. Men can rarely be diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer or a disease that affects the nipple known as Paget disease. However, it cannot be ruled out.

Where Breast Cancer begins

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Every person is born with breast tissue in small amounts. The tissue is made up of milk-producing glands known as lobules, which are the ducts that carry milk to the nipples. For example, women, during puberty, start developing more of the breast tissues, but men do not. However, since men are born with breast tissue in small amounts, it can lead to breast cancer.

To help you understand better, let’s dig into the different types of breast cancer men are at risk of.

i. Lobular carcinoma

This one starts in the milk-producing glands known as lobules, and it is very rare in men since they have fewer lobules compared to women.

ii. Ductal carcinoma

This originates from the milk ducts and almost all cancer that affects men is ductal carcinoma.

The other rare types of cancer that develops in men include Paget’s disease which is a localized bone disorder and nipple breast cancer.

Depending on the extent of the cancer, a biopsy needs to be done to determine the specific type. In situ means that the cancer has not spread while invasive means the cancer has spread to surrounding breast tissues.

Various factors put men at risk of developing breast cancer (Photo: Shutterstock)

Risk Factors

To help keep this monster at bay, there are several factors that could increase the risk of men contracting breast cancer. These include:

i. Exposure to oestrogen

Oestrogen-related drugs like those related to hormone therapy used in prostate cancer are said to increase the risk of breast cancer.

ii. Liver disease

Conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver reduces male hormones increasing the risk of male breast cancer.

iii. Age factor

The older a person is, the higher the risk of breast cancer. Studies show that men in their 60’s and above are often diagnosed with different types of cancer including breast.

iv. Obesity

Higher levels of oestrogen are associated with obesity which increases the risk of breast cancer in men.

v. Genes

If one comes from a family with a history of breast cancer chances are that you may be at risk of contracting similar or another type of cancer.

vi. Klinefelter's syndrome

This is a genetic syndrome that occurs when a boy is born with different copies of the X chromosome, often more than one copy. The syndrome leads to abnormal development of a person's testicles and as a result, men with the syndrome produce lower levels of androgen and more oestrogen which are female hormones.

vii. Testicular diseases

A ripple effect from surgery to get rid of inflamed testicles may in the process increase a person's risk of breast cancer.

Treatment of breast cancer in men

Depending on how early it is detected, if one is diagnosed early there are high chances of beating it. The treatment might involve surgery to get rid of the breast tissue, or radiation therapy and chemotherapy might be recommended accordingly to the situation at hand.


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