Male breast cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the breast. Any man can develop breast cancer, but it is most common among men who are 60 – 70 years of age. About one percent of all breast cancers occur in men. About 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, with about 450 deaths due to male breast cancer occurring each year.
Many men may be surprised to learn that they can get breast cancer. Men have breast tissue that develops in the same way as breast tissue in women, and is susceptible to cancer cells in the same way. In girls, hormonal changes at puberty cause female breasts to grow. In boys, hormones made by the testicles prevent the breasts from growing. Breast cancer in men is uncommon because male breasts have ducts that are less developed and are not exposed to growth-promoting female hormones.
Just like in women, breast cancer in men can begin in the ducts and spread into surrounding cells. More rarely, men can develop inflammatory breast cancer or Paget’s disease of the nipple, which happens when a tumor that began in a duct beneath the nipple moves to the surface. Male breasts have few if any lobules, and so lobular carcinoma rarely, if ever, occurs in men.
Men should also be aware of gynecomastia, the most common male breast disorder. Gynecomastia is not a form of cancer, but does cause a growth under the nipple or areola that can be felt, and sometimes seen. Gynecomastia is common in teenage boys due to hormonal changes during adolescence, and in older men, due to late-life hormonal shifts. Certain medications can cause gynecomastia, as can some conditions, such as Klinefelter syndrome. Rarely, gynecomastia is due to a tumor. Any such lumps should be examined by your doctor.
Male breast cancer treatment options
Male breast cancer treatment typically consists of mastectomy, followed by radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy. Since many male breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive, the drug tamoxifen is often a standard therapy for male breast cancer.
For men whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes, adjuvant therapy (therapy given after surgery) is generally the same as for a woman with breast cancer. For men whose cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy plus tamoxifen and/or other hormone therapy. Treatment for men with cancer that has spread to other parts of the body may include hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy.
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