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Male Breast Cancer 
by Valencia P. Higuera August 15, 2005

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of male breast cancer, highlighting symptoms, stages, risk factors, and treatment options.

Above all, many adults are aware of the various types of cancers. An abundance of medical information has been published with the intent of increasing cancer awareness. The key to surviving this potentially deadly disease is receiving an early diagnosis. Common cancers include color, ovarian, testicular, and leukemia. However, little information is available on uncommon cancers. Thus, individuals who develop one of many rare cancers may not seek the necessary medical attention. These particular cancers are generally not diagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage. Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer among women; however, breast cancer may also affect men. It accounts for only 1% of all male cancers. If left untreated, male breast cancer kills.

What is Male Breast Cancer?

Male breast cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop within the tissue lining the breast. Our bodies naturally produce healthy cells which are intended to fight infections and keep us healthy. In some cases, cells divide abnormally. The abnormal cells begin attacking healthy cells. These abnormal cells are cancerous, and they can spread quickly throughout the body. As more cancerous cells develop, a tumor or mass will form on the breast. This mass will appear as a small lump.

Although male breast cancer is extremely rare, there are nearly 1,700 new cases each year, and over 400 deaths. This number is small compared to the 40,000 women who die of breast cancer each year. However, women do have a higher success rate because of routinely examining their breast for abnormalities. Few men are aware that breast cancer may also affect males, thus many do not check themselves for lumps or hard masses.

Causes of Male Breast Cancer

The cause of female and male breast cancers is similar. In both cases, males and females generally have a family history of breast cancer. It has also been noted that several men who develop breast cancer have a very strong family history of breast cancer. For example, their mother and sister may have both had the disease, or they could have an unusual high number of female relatives that suffer from the disease.

Men who have been exposed to radiation are also at risk of developing male breast cancer. This includes the radiation exposure that may have occurred from radiation therapy to treat cancers. In other words, males who received radiation therapy to treat another form of cancer like testicular, are placed at a greater risk of also developing breast cancer.

High estrogen levels in males also place men at risk of developing male breast cancer. Low levels of estrogen are common in males. However, due to certain medical conditions, males may produce more than the normal levels of this hormone.

Klinefelter's Syndrome: Ordinarily, men's bodies are comprised of two chromosomes. They inherit an X chromosome from their mother, and a Y chromosome from their father. In rare cases, a male may inherit an additional X chromosome from their mother. Instead of having the normal XY sex chromosome, men with Klinefelter's syndrome will have an XXY sex chromosome. The extra X chromosome results in an increase estrogen level, which is a huge contributing factor of breast cancer.

Cirrhosis of the Liver: There is scarring of the liver with this condition. Cirrhosis is caused by alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, or the buildup of toxic substances in the liver. Toxic substances may include an overdose of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Men with cirrhosis of the liver may experience distorted levels of estrogen and testosterone. This may include an increase in the level of estrogen that the body produces.

Three Types of Male Breast Cancer

  • Infiltrating ductal carcinoma: Cancer that has extended outside of the breast lining.
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ: This occurs when cancerous cells are discovered in the lining of the intraductal carcinoma.
  • Inflammatory breast cancer: Breast cancer in which the breasts appear red, enlarged, and inflamed.
  • Paget’s disease: This cancer occurs when a tumor develops on the surface of the nipple.

Signs of Male Breast Cancer

Common symptoms of male breast cancer include:

  • Hard, painless lump on breast
  • Change in size of breast
  • Nipple discharge or bleeding
  • Scaly skin on nipple
  • Redness on breast or nipple

Males who experience one or more of these symptoms should seek medical attention. Although male breast cancer is rare, delaying treatment will make it difficult to cure this illness. The procedure to diagnose male breast cancer is a biopsy. During a biopsy, a thin needle is inserted into the lump. Tissue samples are removed from the lump for examination. In some cases, doctors will remove the entire lump. The sample is observed by a pathologist. Once male breast cancer is confirmed, the next step is determining the stage of cancer. This information is essential for choosing the most effective treatment.

Stages of Breast Cancer

Male and female breast cancer consists of five stages. Doctors determine stages based on the size of tumors, and whether cancer is present in other areas of the body. The stages of breast cancer include:

Stage 0: Cancerous cells develop; tumors have not formed.

Stage 1: The tumor is smaller than 2 centimeters, and cancer has not spread to surrounding tissues and organs.

Stage 2: The tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters, and cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3: Advanced stage in which cancer has spread to surrounding tissues such as skin, chest wall, and rib cage.

Stage 4: Cancer has spread to other parts of the body and may affect the brain, bones, liver, or lungs.

Treatment of Male Breast Cancer

The initial treatment of male breast cancer includes surgery. Surgery consists of removing the cancerous lump, entire breast, or/and lymph nodes. In the beginning stages of cancer, doctors will likely only remove the tumor. Patients may also undergo chemotherapy (drugs that are intended to stop the growth of cancerous cells) or radiation therapy (high energy rays intended to shrink tumors). The purpose of additional treatment is to destroy any remaining cancerous cells. A mastectomy is preformed when cancer is widespread.


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