I won’t overstate the case, but you should be aware that breast cancer occurs in men. That said it occurs at a much lower rate than it does in women. I know what you may be thinking, but it’s not that obvious. Both males and females have breast tissue. The big difference is women come equipped with a much greater support of certain hormones that stimulate development of breast tissue. You know this to be true because there are circumstances in which males, either through natural occurrence of abnormally high levels of those hormone levels or by stimulation (such as occurs with certain medicines), can develop noticeable sized breasts (called gynecomastia in non-cancerous circumstances and also present in breast cancer). This Straight, No Chaser offers information you should know to avoid a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
How often does breast cancer occur in males?
- It is estimated that in 2014, approximately 2500 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Less than 1% of all breast cancers develop in men.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer in men?
- Age: Increases in age correspond to an increased risk. In fact, age in the greatest risk for men. In fact, the average age of men diagnosed with breast cancer is about 68.
- High estrogen levels: Estrogen stimulates growth of breasts, both in normal and abnormal circumstances. The following are circumstances that can produce high estrogen levels in men.
- Obesity increases estrogen production.
- Certain conditions or treatment with hormonal medicines that include estrogen.
- Heavy alcohol use can damage the liver, which can result in a diminished ability of the liver to regulate estrogen levels.
- Similarly, other causes of liver disease also result in higher estrogen levels.
- You can also get significant estrogen exposure if hormones are used in the beef cattle you eat.
- Klinefelter syndrome is a genetic disorder involving the presence of additional X chromosomes (the “female” chromosome). Men with this syndrome have lower levels of male hormones (androgens) and higher levels of female hormones (estrogen), resulting in a higher risk of developing gynecomastia and breast cancer.
- Radiation exposure: Receiving radiation therapy to the chest before age 30 (such as occurs with treatment of Hodgkin’s disease) may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
- A family history of breast cancer or genetic alterations: Other men in one’s family with breast cancer, or a breast cancer gene abnormality also increases the risk of breast cancer. Men identified as having certain abnormal genes, including BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (BR stands for BReast, and CA stands for CAncer) have an increased risk for male breast cancer of 80 times greater than the lifetime risk of men without BRCA1 or BRCA2 abnormalities. The message here is if you have a family history of breast cancer, consider getting checked for the presence of these genes.
If you are a male with significant risks, your next step is to have a conversation with your physician. In case you haven’t seen the rest of the Straight, No Chaser series on breast cancer, use the following links for information on the rest of the story.