Male breast cancer
390 men in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, yet many people are unaware that men can develop breast cancer because they don’t consider men to have breasts. In fact, both women and men have breast tissue and the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are similar, but the risk and causes do vary slightly. Age is a factor and older men are particularly at risk.
A breast cancer diagnosis can be difficult to comprehend and come to terms with, especially as it is often perceived as a women’s disease and that much of the information and support available is aimed at women. It can be an incredibly confusing and isolating time as you may feel self conscious about discussing your diagnosis with others and it may be that you don’t know anyone else who has gone through a similar experience.
Men, be chest aware!
Most men don’t realise that they need to be ‘chest aware’ but it is important to check yourself regularly. And should you notice anything unusual or are worried, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.
Symptoms of male breast cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer in men may include:
- A lump in the chest area or around the nipple.
- Liquid discharge from the nipple, which may be blood stained.
- A tender or inverted nipple.
- Ulcers or scores on the chest or around the nipple.
- Swelling of the chest area or the lymph nodes under the arm.
- A rash on or around the nipple.
- Changed in the shape or size of the breast.
These symptoms will usually not be due to cancer. However, it is important that you see your GP to rule it out.
Diagnosis of male breast cancer
If your GP suspects you might have breast cancer, they will refer you to a breast clinic. There, they will ask you about your symptoms and if you have any family history of breast cancer. They will examine the breast area as well as carry out a number of tests. These may include an ultrasound, mammogram (x-ray of the breast area) and/or biopsy of the infected cells. The results of these may be given to your on the same day, or in a follow-up appointment.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, additional tests will be carried out to see if the cancer has spread.
Treatment of male breast cancer
Treatment will be the same as with female breast cancer. A number of options will be available to medical staff depending on the nature of the cancer and how much it has developed. Typical treatment can include any of the following:
- A mastectomy to remove all of the breast tissue. Lymph nodes may also be removed.
- A lumpectomy, where only the immediate affected tissue is removed.
- Radiotherapy targets the cancerous cells directly, shrinking and destroying them, as well as reducing the risk of the cancer coming back.
- Chemotherapy is a mix of various anti-cancer drugs that reduce the chances of the cancer coming back and reduce the rate of growth of cancers, especially if they have spread beyond the breast area.
- Hormone therapy helps to reduce the amount of oestrogen in the body, reducing the chances of recurrence. You will usually be prescribed tamoxifen for this for a number of years.
- You may also be given Trastuzumab (also known as herceptin) to block the effect of HER2, which can contribute to the growth of breast cancer cells. This is injected or added directly to a vein every three weeks for a year.
Your breast cancer clinic will explain all of these options and allow you to choose what is best for you. Not all of these treatments are perfect and may not prevent the cancer from coming back, whilst many will also have unpleasant side effects.
Support for male breast cancer
There is a wealth of useful information and support online. As well as talking to family and friends, you can talk to your breast cancer nurse or GP if you need support.
Breast Cancer Now offer their Someone Like Me service, and they will connect you with another man who has had breast cancer, whilst you can also visit Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Chat forum. You can also check out #bluegetittoo, a campaign to raise awareness of male breast cancer. Other charities will also offer support services.
There are men who are brave enough to share their story with you. Richard Chilvers was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent much of his time raising awareness amongst men of the need to be breast aware. Read Richard’s breast cancer story here.
Research into male breast cancer
Male and female breast cancers behave in the same way and the treatment is practically the same. Our objective, to find specific breast cancer cells to target for immune therapy, could be of benefit to men as well as women.