Male breast cancer

You might be surprised to hear men can develop breast cancer too. While it’s very rare, about 150 Aussie blokes are expected to be diagnosed in 2015.

Symbolised by a pink ribbon, breast cancer is often thought of as a women’s disease, so when a man is diagnosed he may experience feelings of shock, embarrassment and even emasculation.

Because it is so rare, there is not a lot of awareness around male breast cancer. The National Breast Cancer Foundation says its vital men are aware of any changes to their nipple or the tissue around their pecks.

What is male breast cancer?

Men have a small amount of non-functioning breast tissue which is mostly found behind the nipple.

Just like women, breast cancer in men can develop as a malignant tumour which starts in the cells of the breast.

It’s not yet known what causes it, but research suggests men are more at risk as they get older, if they have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, if they have been exposed to radiation, have certain testicular conditions, or high levels of oestrogen.

The chance of getting male breast cancer is also increased by a rare genetic condition in men, called Klinefelter’s syndrome, as well as inherited changes (mutations) in specific genes, including the breast cancer-associated BRCA-2 gene.

Signs and symptoms of male breast cancer

According to Cancer Australia, the most common symptom is a painless lump on the chest that can be felt near the nipple.

Some of the other warning signs include:

  • Discharge from the nipple.
  • Changes to the nipple’s shape or appearance.
  • Swelling or painful dimpling causing changes in the shape or appearance of the breast tissue.
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm.

If you notice any of these symptoms, or any unusual changes in your breast that concern you, see a doctor as soon as possible.

man being examined by the doctor

Diagnosing male breast cancer

Like breast cancer in women, early detection of male breast cancer is the key to effective treatment and survival. Statistics show men and women have the same chances of survival relative to their age and stage of diagnosis. 

The tests are exactly the same for men as women: a breast examination taking into account family history, a mammogram or ultrasound, and a biopsy. 

Cancer Australia says it’s vital men are aware of the risks and don’t let embarrassment or pride stand in the way of getting checked.

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