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Can Men Get Breast Cancer? Absolutely.

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Can Men Get Breast Cancer? Absolutely.

Mar 10, 2015

Breast Cancer isn’t just a women’s issue – about 2,000 men will be diagnosed with the disease this year. Ginger Johnson, president of, says it’s important for men to check themselves regularly, but to look for more than just lumps. She gives some helpful advice for a thorough self-check that both men and women can use.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Can men get breast cancer? Turns out the answer is yes. Find out more about that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Ginger Johnson is the president of Mainly, you're an advocate for women getting screened for breast cancer, but I was surprised when you said that I actually could be at risk for breast cancer. How common is that?

Ginger: It's not very common, but it is possible. Men are a little bit different. Their lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. But the interesting thing is that a lot of guys aren't even aware that if they have a family member, a blood relative that has breast cancer that their chances of getting that actually increase. And so it's very important for guys to be aware that they have pecs. Those pec muscles can also have fatty tissue over them, that is breast tissue. And that tissue can be susceptible to disease, just like a woman's breast can be susceptible to disease.

Interviewer: So, as a man, if I tend to be a little bit heavier and have more fatty tissue, does that increase my risk?

Ginger: Fat is an interesting thing because fat tends to hold onto hormones. And so those hormones can actually trigger different kinds of cancer in your lifetime. That's why women are tested if they're estrogen or progesterone positive or negative when they get a diagnosis of breast cancer. But what we're finding is that guys aren't aware that if they have a lump on their chest, they just kind of blow it off. They won't go and say, "Hey, is this something that I need to look at?" Because they don't have the knowledge to even think, "Oh, this might be breast cancer," because it's such a foreign idea to them.

Interviewer: Yeah. It's fairly rare. Not a lot of guys are diagnosed with it, right?

Ginger: Not a lot of guys are. It's 100 times less common among men than among women. But, what we're seeing is that there are still about 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer that are going to be diagnosed this year.

Interviewer: So I'm sure you noticed that I started checking myself . . .

Ginger: You did.

Interviewer: Right?

Ginger: That's okay.

Interviewer: So is that what a guy should do? Is it, you're looking for a lump?

Ginger: Breast cancer can show up in a lot of different ways. There are actually 12 different ways that it can show up beside a lump. A lump, of course, is something that is very easy to see. You can feel it. But, it doesn't have to be a big lump. It can just be something small, like a pinhead, even, that's hard and immovable. If you think about breast tissue as, maybe, like a lemon. There's a great campaign on that actually shows lemons. And, this is a great way for guys to really . . . that this can be, too. But, in their analogy of a lemon, you're looking for a bad seed. So it's going to be hard. It's going to be immovable.

It's going to be something that you go, "Oh, this, this isn't soft," like a bean, or something squishy, which could be fat tissue, or even a lymph node. This is actually hard and immovable.

Other symptoms, though, could be redness on the skin, itchiness that does not go away, hotness. If you feel like you're seeing erosion on the skin, or if your skin is starting to invert or look like an orange peel. There are a lot of different changes that can happen on skin. This is for men and women.

Interviewer: Okay.

Ginger: But, a lot of times guys don't get this education.

Interviewer: Yeah. Sure. I never would have thought that a rash could be something like male breast cancer.

Ginger: If it doesn't go away, it's always best, if it doesn't go away, if it stays consistent over the course of a couple of weeks, go in and get it checked. Just go so you can know and figure out what it is. Because, you definitely want to find it before you feel it.

Interviewer: So, are you recommending guys do self-exams? Are you recommending that they just be aware?

Ginger: I would say I would be aware. Because you are less at risk, I would just say, "Be aware of your tissue."

Interviewer: Okay.

Ginger: Be aware of your body. I would, honestly, talk to your doctor. I mean, guys don't often go into the doctor, we know how that is. But, if you're going to go in and talk to your doctor, and if you do have a family history of a mom, or a sister, an aunt, somebody in your family, just say, "Hey, Doc, what is this? Tell me what you know." Now, if the doctor you go to does not know, then you're going to want to do some research on your own because oftentimes doctors, themselves, we love them, they do as much as they can with the knowledge they have, but sometimes they might not have the knowledge for you. So you might need to get a second opinion.

Interviewer: Yeah. It might not necessarily even be on the radar . . .

Ginger: It's true.

Interviewer: Because it is, it does happen, but it is somewhat rare.

Ginger: It's true.

Interviewer: So, do guys then get mammograms, at that point? Just like a woman would?

Ginger: They would. They would have to go in . . .

Interviewer: Really?

Ginger: And have, have some kind of a mammogram, a ìMan-o-gramî if you will. But, they might do an ultrasound. There might be some other things that they're going to do for you. But there have been gentlemen that I know that have actually had mastectomies, where they've had to have that tissue removed. Now, it seems foreign to a guy to do that. But, they've actually had to go in and remove that breast tissue that is over the muscles so that they can remove any disease from that person.

Interviewer: All right. Any final . . . I don't know what else to ask at this point, other than, I'm going to start paying attention. And if I see something that's not going away, or feel any weird lumps, I'll talk to my doctor. And I'll know that if my doctor is, "What?" then I need to, perhaps educate myself. Anything beyond that?

Ginger: That's . . .

Interviewer: As a man?

Ginger: That's the best thing, and to realize, guys, how much influence you have in the women in your life. I don't think guys realize that the influence they have to say, "Hey, women, this is something that we all need to be concerned about. If I can get it, then obviously you can get it. Go in and get your mammogram." That's something they recommend for women, age 40 and over, to start with that baseline, and go regularly thereafter.

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