Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer diagnosed among females. Though breast cancer may seem like a disease exclusive to women, breast cancer can affect men as well.
While they have a smaller concentration than women, men have breast tissue, which means it’s possible for them to develop breast cancer. Male breast cancer is most common in older men, but it is important that men recognize that the disease can strike them at any age.
Signs and symptoms
Men with breast cancer experience symptoms that are similar to those experienced by women. Possible signs to be aware of include:
• skin dimpling or puckering
• a lump or swelling, which is typically (but not always) painless
• nipple retraction
• redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
• discharge from the nipple, which may be clear or blood-tinged
The American Cancer Society advises that sometimes breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes under the arm or around the collar bone and cause a lump or swelling in these locations. The protrusion may be noticeable even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.
Men should realize that enlargements or issues affecting both breasts (not on just one side) typically is not cancer. Enlargement or changes to both breasts in men can be caused by weight gain, medications or heavy alcohol consumption.
Types of male breast cancer
Various types of breast cancer can affect men, according to the Mayo Clinic:
• Ductal carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the milk ducts. Nearly all male breast cancer is ductal carcinoma.
• Lobular carcinoma: Cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands. This type is rare in men because they have few lobules in their breast tissue.
Especially rare types of breast cancer that can occur in men include Paget’s disease of the nipple and inflammatory breast cancer.
BreastCancer.org says that a small study of breast cancer in men found that the average time between first symptoms and diagnosis was about 19 months. This can be startling because early diagnosis can be vital to survival. Through the realization that breast cancer can happen to men and more education and awareness, men can feel more comfortable about discussing changes to breast tissue with their doctors.
Male breast cancer is a very real occurrence, albeit a rare one. It is important that men take any abnormalities in their chests seriously.