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Males having breast cancer is rare, but it is not unheard of

October 1, 2018
While rare, men have breast tissue and can have breast cancer, though the science on why is still unclear.

It’s rare, but men have breast tissue and can have breast cancer. Like breast cancer in women, early diagnosis plays a significant role in a good outcome. And like the disease in women, treatment generally includes surgery to remove the affected tissue, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Causes

The Mayo Clinic reports that science is still unclear on the causes of male breast cancer. We do know that everyone of all genders is born with some breast tissue, which consists of milk-producing glands known as lobules, ducts that move milk to the nipples, and fat. At puberty, women develop more breast tissue; men do not, but they retain what they were born with.

There is evidence that a family history of breast cancer can make men more likely to get the disease. Gene mutations, particularly in BRCA2, increase a man’s risk of both breast and prostate cancer. Other risk factors are older age; exposure to estrogen; a genetic syndrome known as Klinefelter’s syndrome, in which boys are born with more than one copy of the X chromosome; liver and testicular disease; and obesity.

Types

There are several types of male breast cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Cancer that begins in the milk ducts, or ductal carcinoma, is the most common type of male breast cancer. Lobular carcinoma, which is cancer that starts in the milk-producing glands, is rare, since men have very few milk-producing glands. Other types of male breast cancer are Paget’s disease, which affects the nipple, and inflammatory breast cancer.

Symptoms and treatment

Symptoms of breast cancer in men may include a painless lump or thickening in the breast tissue, nipple discharge or changes to the nipple, such as redness, scaling or turning inward, or changes to the skin covering the breast.

Diagnosis and treatment for male breast cancer includes clinical breast exams, imaging tests that allow the doctor to identify problem areas and abnormalities or a biopsy, when a doctor extracts tissue from the suspicious area to test if it’s cancer. Because male breast cancer is often hormone-related, hormone therapy may be part of a treatment regimen; surgical treatment could include a full mastectomy or removal of a few lymph nodes that would be the most likely place for cancer to spread.

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