Because breast cancer is presented as a woman’s health concern, it’s easy to forget that—while rare—it is a legitimate concern for men as well. In fact, experts believe over 400 men will die of breast cancer this year alone. Men as well as women have breasts, including lymph nodes and even the tissue that in women are the milk ducts, and that means that men can also get breast cancer; about one in 1000 do.
The risk factors in men are obviously different from women, but there is some overlap:
- High levels of estrogen. All men have some estrogen, just as women have some testosterone, but because the levels are so low, it’s not entirely uncommon for men to have elevated testosterone levels. Meanwhile, most breast cancer in men is what is called estrogen receptor-positive, and grows in response to estrogen. Men with gynecomastia—literally, "womanly breasts"—are likely to have high estrogen.
- Estrogen exposure. Some men naturally produce more estrogen than typical, but estrogen is also administered to men, such as to treat prostate cancer.
- Obesity. Fat cells create estrogen, including in men.
- Radiation exposure, especially in the chest area. Radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a common source of this radiation.
- Liver disease. The liver is an important center of hormonal metabolism, meaning liver function is part of the regulation of estrogen and testosterone levels in the body.
- Family history of breast cancer. While this is more often a risk factor for women, male family members of someone—particularly a man—who has had breast cancer are more likely to develop it themselves.
Breast cancer in men is often treated with surgery. The aesthetic concerns with surgery, including mastectomy, on men are different from those involved in the surgery when performed on women, meaning mastectomy is a less fraught option. Hormone therapy is also used to deprive the tumor of the hormones it needs to grow.