One in every eight women gets breast cancer, but what is often overlooked is that around one man in 1000 will develop the disease as well—and, since it is so often thought of as a women’s illness, it is usually diagnosed later if at all, in men, making it more difficult to treat successfully, and more burdensome to treat at all. Male and female breast tissue are very similar in all but functionality, meaning that the cancer develops much the same way.
However, Women are routinely screened, while men almost never are. That’s why almost 450 men a year die from breast cancer. In fact, as deadly as breast cancer is in women, it has a far lower survival rate in men. Men are typically farther along than women at diagnosis, so it is important for men to recognize the signs and risks.
Male and female breast cancers have significant overlap in risk factors, but there are some differences. Estrogen levels are linked with the disease, but whereas estrogen levels in women are high as a matter of course, it is less common for men. However, estrogen exposure could still lead to breast cancer. Gynecomastia—having large, female-looking breasts—increases the risk; this is often a result of obesity, though certain medications or medical conditions can also cause breast tissue to develop. A chromosomal abnormality called Klinefelter’s syndrome will make breast cancer more likely. The BRCA gene mutations responsible for about five percent of breast cancer cases in women have a similar effect in men. Injury to the testicles can affect hormone production, as can liver disease, and that in turn can raise cancer risk.
The symptoms are similar: a lump in the breast tissue, reddened or scaly patches on the skin, changes to the skin or to the nipple, puckering, or inversion of or discharge from the nipples. The primary difference is that men are less likely to do self-exams and less likely to be routinely tested for breast cancer until there;s a clear indication that something is wrong. On the other hand, the smaller breasts of most men make symptoms of cancer easier to notice. However, this smaller size also means the cancer can progress faster and spread more easily.