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Breast Cancer Isn’t Just a “Female Thing”

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 all breast cancer(BRE-ST CAN-SIR) — An abnormal growth that originates from breast tissue 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(JEAN) — A part of the DNA, or blueprint, that determines human characteristics & 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(BRAK-AH-ONE) — An abnormal or mutated breast cancer gene that is passed down from parent to child and is associated with an increased chance of developing breast cancer; also known as Breast Cancer Gene One and BRCA2(BRAK-AH-TOO) — An abnormal or mutated breast cancer gene that is passed down from parent to child and is associated with an increased chance of developing breast cancer; also known as Breast Cancer Gene Two are gene mutations(JEAN MU-TAY-SHUNS) — Changes in the DNA that can lead to or cause cancer 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, prostate, or pancreatic cancer could indicate you have one of these genes. Additionally, a father, grandfather, or sibling with pancreatic cancer(PANG-CREE-AH-TUK CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originated from pancreatic tissue or metastatic prostate cancer(MET-AH-STAT-IK PRAH-STATE CAN-SIR) — Abnormal growth that originated from prostate tissue and has spread to other parts of the body, increases your risk of having the BRCA2 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.

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Estrogen-Testosterone Level

High estrogen(ES-TRO-JIN) — A hormone or chemical that is needed for normal bodily functions in women but can also make some breast cancers grow 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(RAY-DEE-A-SHUN) — High energy waves used to treat cancer in a specific area of the body 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(SELF IG-ZAM-IN-A-SHUN) — Using your hands to feel for abnormal tissue in your breast or clinician examination(KLIN-ISH-SHUN IG-ZAM-IN-A-SHUN) — Medical professional feeling for abnormal tissue in the breast. Self-examinations are usually more successful in men than women because men typically don’t have as much breast tissue(TISH-YOU) — The accumulation of cells that make up parts of the body, like organs.

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(MAS) — An abnormal growth or tissue 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(MAM-O-GRAM) — A screening test that uses x-rays to look for breast cancer or ultrasound(ALL-TRA-SOUND) — An imaging technique that uses sound waves to differentiate types of tissue may be recommended to determine what the issue is.

Learn about the different types of diagnostic tests for breast cancer.

Finally, if you’re unfortunately diagnosed with breast cancer, our book, 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(TREET-MINT) — Techniques to help eliminate or control a disease is essentially the same for both men and women. All you need to do is replace “she” with “he.”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
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1 Response

Cheri L Ambrose

Cheri L Ambrose

October 28, 2018

Interested in connecting with you to discuss further. As co-founder of a global n on-profit dedicated to awareness for men with breast cancer, I feel it is important to bring all of us together as our message will be stronger.

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