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Breast cancer nearly always affects women. That’s what makes the disease such a surprise for men who learn they have it.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is 100 times more common in women than in men. Still, men can get the disease.
The risk factors
According to the ACS, factors that increase a man’s risk of breast cancer include:
The average age of a man diagnosed with breast cancer is 68.
- Family history
Around 20 percent of men with breast cancer have a close male or female relative with the disease.
- Klinefelter's syndrome
Men with this rare condition are born with an extra female chromosome. This causes them to have some female characteristics, such as enlarged breasts, and higher levels of female sex hormones (estrogen) and lower levels of male sex hormones (androgens). These hormonal factors cause infertility and increase breast cancer risk.
Men who have received radiation therapy to the chest have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Inherited gene mutations
Mutations in the BRCA1, BRCA2, CHEK2 and PTEN genes may contribute to breast cancer in men.
- Liver disease
Serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis, cause an increase in estrogen levels. This means a higher risk of breast cancer.
Treating male breast cancer
Breast cancer is just as treatable in men as in women. But treatment options may be more limited for men.
For example, while the breast of a woman may be spared if the cancer is detected early, men generally must have a full mastectomy. This is because the male breast is small and it’s often not possible to remove the cancer without also removing most of the remaining breast tissue, according to the ACS.
Early detection is the key
The best way to beat breast cancer is to find and treat it early, according to the ACS. However, many men aren’t diagnosed with breast cancer until the disease has already spread.
Still, because breast cancer in men is so rare, the ACS doesn’t recommend that men get regular mammograms. But men should watch for breast changes on their own.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men include:
- Nipple discharge (usually bloody).
- Breast lumps or swelling.
- Nipple retraction (turning inward).
- Redness or scaling of the breast or nipple.
In most cases, these symptoms are caused by noncancerous growths, such as cysts, benign tumors or gynecomastia—an increased amount of breast tissue. But just in case, men with these symptoms should see a doctor right away.