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Breast Cancer in Men

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Breast Cancer in Men

Oct 15, 2020

Men make up one percent of all breast cancer cases in the United States. When it comes to breast cancer, the signs, symptoms, and treatments of the condition are the same for men as they are for women. So should men be getting tested for breast cancer as well? Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones explores breast cancer in men and what can be done to make sure it is detected and treated early. 

Episode Transcript

When the father of an iconic female pop star went public with the diagnosis of his breast cancer, it was clear that we don't think about our boys and men and this disease very often.

This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health, and this is "The Seven Domains of Women's Health" and a little bit of men's health on The Scope.

All humans have breast tissue as a developing fetus. Baby boys and especially baby girls often have breast tissue that can be felt under the nipple shortly after they are born that has been stimulated by the hormones of pregnancy. Boys in early adolescents may grow more breast tissue as their early hormones from the testes stimulate the breast cells until testosterone rises enough to suppress the effect of estrogen. And then we mostly forget about it.

Breast cancer in men is the same type of breast cancer as in women, cancer of the breast ducts called ductal cancer and cancer of the breast lobules is called lobular cancer. Breast cancer in men is uncommon and makes up only about 1% of all breast cancers. Men who do develop breast cancer do so at a later stage in life than women, with an average age of about 72. The rate of breast cancer in the U.S. is about 1.9 white men out of 100,000, and in African-American men it's about 2.7 in 100,000. And the lifetime risk of a man getting breast cancer is about 1 in 800.

So it's not so common, but the incidence of breast cancer in men has been slowly rising over the past 40 years. At least in one study of breast cancer of men in Britain, the exact reason for the rise isn't known, but the risk factors for men include anything that increases estrogen, obesity, liver disease, heavy alcohol use, and diseases where men make less testosterone. Of course, family history and genetics play a role. About one in five men with breast cancer have a close family member with breast cancer. Usually that's a woman.

Now, when a woman develops breast cancer, we think about her family history, the other women who are close to her genetically, mothers and sisters and daughters, and then grandmothers and maternal aunts. If there seems to be a family pattern, we often suggest genetic testing for women. If the woman with breast cancer is positive for one of the gene mutations associated with breast cancer, like BRCA1 and 2 mutations, we offer counseling to the family and suggest that the close women relatives be tested.

But we should be talking about whether the men should be tested as well. If a man develops breast cancer, we should offer him testing. If a man has a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, the chance of getting breast cancer is 6 in 100. And if he has a BRCA2 mutation, it's 1 in 100.

The signs of breast cancer in men are the same as in women -- a lump near the nipple, dimpling of the skin near the nipple, or nipple discharge or blood from the nipple. So families with genetic risk for breast cancer should consider testing and counseling the men in the family. There are no recommended screening tests for asymptomatic men, men without any signs or symptoms. And mostly, it is important for men who notice changes in their nipple or the tissue around the nipple, they should bring it to the attention of their clinician. Early detection is just as important for treatment in men as it is in women because who cares about men's health? We do.

And thanks for joining us on "The Seven Domains of Women's Health" because we love our men.