Pink ribbons have become the symbol of breast cancer, a disease you may think only affects women. Not so, because men can be affected as well. And although symptoms and treatments may be similar, breast cancer can be more aggressive when it appears in men.
Even though only about one percent of breast cancer patients are male, men should still know the facts.
Who’s more at risk?
According to Chady Leon, M.D., an oncologist at Marshfield Clinic, breast cancer can affect any man, but certain people are more susceptible.
“It happens more in older men and families with a BRCA gene mutation, which is linked to breast cancer,” said Dr. Leon. “This cancer gene also can cause prostate or pancreatic cancer in men.”
Dr. Leon also said men can get “triple negative” breast cancer. “This is a subtype of the cancer that is very aggressive because it doesn’t respond to hormone therapy.”
Symptoms similar for men and women
Breast cancer symptoms in men, like women, may include a lump or a small nodule in the breast, skin changes such as redness or skin thickening around the area and nipple changes, Dr. Leon said. An inverted nipple or discharge also can be symptoms and bloody discharge could be a more serious sign.
“Males still have breast tissue, but not as much,” Leon said. “So it is actually easier to feel a lump or nodule.”
Symptoms can range from not having pain to pain all over because the cancer has spread.
Treatment depends on the cancer’s stage
When breast cancer is at stages zero to three, the most common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy. If it’s at stage 4, it is no longer curable, although certainly treatable.
Doctors usually don’t screen men for breast cancer.
“The number of people who have male breast cancer isn’t high enough to screen everyone,” he said.
Treatments for male and female breast cancer are similar.
“Less clinical trials involving male breast cancer are available to help try and find better treatments or a cure because it’s rarer,” Dr. Leon said. “But we will look for whatever treatment we can to help our patients.”