For many members of today’s society, hearing the term “breast cancer” brings up images of women wearing pink, or women wearing head scarves. Breast cancer is often seen as a woman’s disease, and, by and large, it is. But women are not always the only ones who are faced with this horrible challenge. Given that this week is National Men’s Health Week, we thought it was the perfect time to include a quick article about men and breast cancer. We’re also including information about mastectomies and breast reconstruction for men.
Who is at Risk?
Men do not have developed breasts like women, but they still have breast tissue. When men and women are children, they both have breast tissue on their chest. However, when women hit puberty, their hormones cause their breast tissue to grow. Men do not experience this, so their breast tissue remains the same as a girl before puberty. Since the breast tissue is present in adult men, they can develop breast cancer.
As men get older, their risk of developing breast cancer increases. Most cases of male breast cancer are seen with men between the ages of 60 and 70. It is exceedingly rare for men to develop breast cancer before the age of 35, but it is not impossible.
Exposure to radiation, hormone treatments, or experiencing infections that result in an enlargement of the breasts increase a man’s risk of developing cancer, as do certain gene mutations and some diseases of the testicles. Men who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer often have a family history of breast cancer, estrogen levels that are higher than average, or previous exposure to radiation. The film, “Pink & Blue,” which premiered in January of 2016, examines the link between the BRCA mutation and breast cancer in both men and women. You can hear brief mentions of men and breast cancer in this trailer:
Men and Breast Cancer: Just as Serious
In the past, many doctors believed that male breast cancer was more serious than female breast cancer, but we know now that both types are of similar concern. Early-stage male breast cancer has an extremely favorable prognosis. For tumors in either stage 0 or 1, the five-year survival rate for men is at around 100 percent.
Unfortunately, most men are not diagnosed with breast cancer until the disease is in a much later stage.
Late diagnoses are so common when it comes to male breast cancer because most men are not as concerned about abnormalities in the area as women are. While many women grow up hearing and learning about breast cancer and the importance of regular check-ups, men often only learn about the disease as something that does not affect them.
The symptoms of male breast cancer are similar to the symptoms of breast cancer in women. Men will discover a lump on their chest, often beneath the nipple. If the symptom is ignored, more severe symptoms will start appearing as the cancer spreads, such as bleeding from the nipple. Further, since men have a much smaller amount of breast tissue, it is more difficult to feel for tumors. It also means the tumors are likely to spread to surrounding tissue much faster.
You can visit here to read more about men and breast cancer, the different types of breast cancer that affect men, and some of the symptoms.
Mastectomy is the Most Common Treatment
Similar to breast cancer in women, the actual treatment of male breast cancer depends on what stage the cancer is in and the individual condition of the patient. Most often, surgery is the initial treatment for male breast cancer. Specifically, a modified radical mastectomy. In some cases, surgeons may also remove some of the muscles in the chest wall.
Following a mastectomy, men complete various therapies for their cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy. Hormone therapy is also an option for male breast cancer because most male breast cancers have hormone receptors. Many hormone therapies for male breast cancer focus more on targeting male hormones. This is in contrast to targeting estrogen, which is common when treating women’s breast cancer.
Men and Breast Cancer: Side Effects
Although men do not have to cope with the loss of their sense of womanhood following a mastectomy, the process of dealing with breast cancer and treatment is still profoundly emotional.
The journey through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is a challenging one and men frequently experience fear about the cancer in general and about treatment side effects. To help ease this fear, men can discuss their treatment with their healthcare team. As we’ve said in some of our other posts, learning about treatment options and side effects can help with the coping process. It allows individuals to prepare themselves for any necessary lifestyle changes and gives them the chance to set up any necessary caregiving requirements for either themselves or their children.
Men may also benefit from finding or creating a support group for men with breast cancer. Since the disease is so rare in men, it may be difficult to find or create an in-person group, but communicating about it online with other men can still be helpful. You can find discussions about men and breast cancer at the Breastcancer.org Male Breast Cancer forum.
Ultimately, as with any surgery, there are scars left behind that change the appearance of a man’s body. While men do not have a lot of breast tissue, the removal of what they had can still result in a lopsided appearance that may create loss of self-confidence. Not every man is bothered by the change in their appearance, but some are. These changes have stopped some men from swimming or otherwise exposing their chest. They have also resulted in general feelings of depression and anxiety.
Is There a Male Breast Reconstruction Option?
Although it is a rare choice, breast reconstruction is an option for men who feel self-conscious about their new appearance. Since men have less breast tissue, many standard reconstructive techniques, such as implants or autologous breast reconstruction, are not available. Instead, most cases of male breast reconstruction involve using fat grafting.
In this case study, researchers looked at a 68-year-old bodybuilder and psychologist who had male breast reconstruction using fat grafting. The man had a successful unilateral breast reconstruction procedure. He was concerned about how his mastectomy would affect the muscles in his chest wall, so he opted for an immediate staged breast reconstruction procedure.
During the mastectomy, a fat graft from the abdomen was placed under the chest muscle on the left side. Over the course of 10 months, additional fat grafts were injected into the surrounding tissue and and excessive tissues were removed to get the desired appearance. The nipple was also reconstructed using a skin graft and modified skate flap.
Recovery was relatively normal. The reconstructed tissue stayed soft and only the nipple experienced partial necrosis. Further, the patient was satisfied with the results six months later and reported that he even favored the reconstructed side.
Fat grafting is associated with minimal complications and can be a good breast reconstruction option for men who are negatively affected emotionally or physically by their mastectomy.
If you would like to read more about men and breast cancer, mastectomies, and breast reconstruction, please feel free to click here. You will find some information about how men are affected by a mastectomy, along with some interviews of men who have had male breast cancer. Hisbreastcancer.org also offers a great deal of helpful information regarding men and breast cancer.