Women tend to be the focus of breast cancer.
But breast cancer isn’t just for women; men can develop it too.
However, it is much less common—0.5-1% of breast cancer diagnoses are men.1,2 While that might seem like a low percentage, male breast cancer is a growing problem. Over the last 25 years, breast cancer in men has increased by 26%.3
There are two main factors that put men at higher risk of breast cancer—genes & estrogen-testosterone level.
15-20% of men with breast cancer have a family history of the disease.4 When it comes to male breast cancer, genes are a big deal.
BRCA1 (B-R-C-A ONE or BRAK-AH ONE) and BRCA2 are gene mutations that are highly associated with breast cancer in both women and men. (BRCA stands for breast (BR) cancer (CA)). A family history of breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer could indicate you have one of these genes. Additionally, a father, grandfather, or a sibling with metastatic prostate cancer, increases your risk of having the BCRA2 gene mutation.
So, why is this important?
Men carrying the BRCA2 mutation have the highest risk of breast cancer—6% lifetime risk (100 times greater than the average male).5,6 If you are of Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity, your lifetime risk is 4.5%.7,8 Finally, men with BRCA1 also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, but the risk is much less than BRCA2 carriers.
High estrogen levels increase breast cancer risk in both men and women. The ratio of estrogen to testosterone is an important high-risk factor in males. Men who have increased estrogen levels (and lower testosterone levels) have a higher risk for breast cancer.
Many factors and conditions can cause an increase of estrogen in males. Some examples include: an injury to the testicles, obesity, marijuana use, thyroid disease, or an inherited condition (like Klinefelter syndrome).9 Similar to women, radiation to the chest also increases the risk of breast cancer.
Now that you know the risk factors, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do about it.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really much you can do. Unlike women, there are no screenings or tests recommended for early detection in men. This is mostly because it is much less common.10
Male breast cancer is usually discovered during a self-examination or clinician examination. Self-examinations are usually more successful in men than women because men typically don’t have as much breast tissue.
Sometimes men will discover breast cancer by noticing a change in the breast. Here are some changes that could signal breast cancer:
- A painless mass or lump in the breast or underarm
- Skin changes including thickening, rippling, or shrinking
- Nipple discharge (liquid leaking from the breast)
- Change in nipple appearance, such as becoming inverted (turning inward) or retracting
If you notice any change, contact your doctor. A mammogram or ultrasound may be recommended to determine what the issue is.
Finally, if you’re unfortunately diagnosed with breast cancer, our book, Dr. Joe Explains…How Breast Cancer Is Like a Dandelion, is a great place to learn the basics of breast cancer. While it is primarily written for women, the information relating to the procedures and treatment is essentially the same for both men and women. All you need to do is replace “she” with “he.”
Dr. Joe’s Words of the Day
A change in the DNA that can lead to or cause cancer
BRCA1 (Breast Cancer Gene One) & BRCA2 (Breast Cancer Gene Two)
Abnormal or mutated breast cancer genes that are passed down from parent to child and are associated with an increased chance of developing breast cancer
Using your hands to feel for abnormal tissue in your breast
Medical professional feeling for abnormal tissue in the breast
Screening test that uses x-rays to look for breast cancer
An imaging technique that uses sound waves to differentiate types of tissue
White J, Kearins O, Dodwell D, et al. Male breast carcinoma: increased awareness needed. Breast Cancer Research. https://breast-cancer-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/bcr2930. Published September 29, 2011. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2017. The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21387. Published January 5, 2017. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Giordano SH, Cohen DS, Buzdar AU, Perkins G, Hortobagyi GN. Breast carcinoma in men: a population-based study. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=15221988. Published July 1, 2004. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Giordano SH, Buzdar AU, Hortobagyi GN. Breast cancer in men. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=12379069. Published October 15, 2002. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Tai, Chuan Y, Susan, et al. Breast Cancer Risk Among Male BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation Carriers | JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/99/23/1811/993419. Published December 5, 2007. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Easton DF, Steele L, Fields P, et al. American Journal of Human Genetics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1715847/. Published July 1997. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Timoteo ARde S, Albuquerque BM, Moura PCP, et al. Hereditary Cancer in Clinical Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4308828/. Published 2015. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Struewing JP, Coriaty ZM, Ron E, et al. American Journal of Human Genetics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1288396/. Published December 1999. Accessed October 5, 2018.
Breast Cancer In Men Risk Factors with Hormonal ... http://www.hormonebalance.org/images/documents/Thomas 97 BrCa Men Risk factor low T abstr.pdf. Accessed October 4, 2018.
Brinton LA. Breast cancer risk among patients with Klinefelter syndrome. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=21241366. Published June 2011. Accessed October 5, 2018.