A lump-like swelling in the breast that may or may not be painful is the most common symptom of male breast cancer. A lump or thickening may be near the breast or in the underarm area. One side of the chest may appear bulkier than the other. Although most men diagnosed with breast cancer are older than 65 years, breast cancer can appear in younger men. Other common signs and symptoms may include:
- A change in the size or shape of the nipples
- Men with breast cancer usually have lumps that can be felt
- A dimple or puckering in the skin around the nipple
- A nipple turned inward
- Fluid discharge from the nipple, especially if it's bloody
- Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin around the nipple)
- Dimples in the breast that looks like the skin of an orange, called peau d’orange
- Sometimes breast cancer can spread and cause swelling under the arm or around the collar bone even before the original tumor in the breast becomes big enough to be felt
What is male breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a malignant tumor that develops from cells of the breast. Before puberty, girls and boys alike have a small amount of breast tissue with a few ducts (tiny tubes that carry milk) located under the nipple and areola. Hormonal changes at puberty cause girls’ breasts to grow. Male breast tissue does not increase as it does in females after puberty.
The breast tissues contain ducts and may contain a few lobules (glands that produce milk if the right hormones are present). Men’s breast duct cells can become cancerous like any other cell of the body. This disease is less common in men than in women because men’s breast ducts are less developed.
Causes and risk factors of male breast cancer
The cause of breast cancer in men is not clear. However, there are risk factors that make breast cancer more likely in men:
- Most breast lumps in men are caused by gynecomastia (enlarged breasts), which is an enlargement of the breast resulting from hormonal imbalance
- Exposure to radiation
- High estrogenic levels due to factors, such as heavy drinking, cirrhosis, obesity, and some medicines that were used to treat prostate cancer, may sometimes cause hormonal imbalance leading to breast cancer
- Heredity, such as a family history of breast cancer or mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene in the family
- Certain genetic disorders, such as Klinefelter syndrome (presence of an extra X chromosome in a man)
- Older age, men are often diagnosed with breast cancer between ages of 60 to 70 years
Stages of male breast cancer
- Stage 0: Doctors consider breast cancer at this stage noninvasive, and it is only present in the ducts or the lobules. Ductal carcinoma in situ is a form of stage 0 breast cancer.
- Stage I: Breast cancer at this stage is invasive, but it remains small and near the primary site. Stage IA involves tumors that are 2 cm or smaller and have not reached the lymph nodes. At stage IB, the cancer has reached the lymph nodes.
- Stage II: Stage II breast cancers are invasive, tumors may be larger than in stage I, and the cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes.
- Stage III: Stage III breast cancer is invasive, tumors may be larger, and cancer has possibly spread to several lymph nodes. Breast cancer at this stage has not spread to other organs.
- Stage IV: Breast cancer has developed in other areas of the body outside the breast and lymph nodes, often in the bones, lungs, brain, or liver. Treatment at this stage focuses on controlling the cancer and preventing it from spreading any further.
Treatment options for male breast cancer
Depending on the type and stage of cancer, treatments can vary and sometimes be combined. They are:
- Lumpectomy: It is when the doctor removes the tumor while leaving the breast intact.
- Mastectomy: It is when the doctor surgically removes all the breast tissue including the tumor and connecting tissue.
- Chemotherapy: It is the most common cancer treatment, and it involves the use of anticancer drugs. These drugs interfere with cells’ ability to reproduce.
- Radiation: It uses X-rays to treat cancer directly.
- Hormone and targeted therapy: These can be used when either genes or hormones play a part in the cancer’s growth.
Though male breast cancer is rare, they should be aware of the possible risk factors and treatment options. It is important to maintain a healthy body weight and restrict alcohol consumption. Since the cause of most male breast cancers is unknown, the best defense is early detection. This improves the chances of successful treatment. A man should talk with the doctor about screening, especially if there is a strong family history of breast cancer, BRCA mutations (found via genetic testing), or they if experience any symptoms associated with the disease. Because men have very little breast tissue, it’s easier to feel small tumors.