When we think of breast cancer we think of our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, daughters and best friends. We think of women that have guided and molded us and helped us through the good and the bad times. We wear pink for them, we walk for them and we honor them. But these women aren’t the only ones suffering from this often tragic disease. Believe it or not men too suffer from breast cancer.
Although men do not get breast cancer in the same numbers as women, The American Cancer Society estimates 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer, versus 1 in 8 women, they do get and at a deadlier rate. Many men have no idea that they can get breast cancer, and some doctors are in the dark, too, dismissing symptoms that would be an automatic red flag in women. Men who do get breast cancer don’t survive as long as women, largely because they don’t even realize they can get it and are slow to recognize the warning signs. Because of this, men’s breast tumors are usually larger at diagnosis, more advanced and more likely to have spread to other parts of the body.
Because the disease is so rare in men researchers are not quite sure what the exact causes are and studies on the subject are few and far in between. However, some believe that some of the same things that increase women’s chances for developing it also affect men, including older age, cancer-linked gene mutations, a family history of the disease, and heavy drinking. Unlike with women, there are no formal guidelines for detecting breast cancer in men, but similar to women men with a strong family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations are at high risk and should speak to their doctors about getting mammograms and are encouraged to perform self breast exams. Men’s breast cancer usually shows up as a lump under or near a nipple. Nipple discharge and breasts that are misshapen or don’t match are also possible signs that should be checked out.
While breast cancer is still largely a disease that affects women, men need to know that they are not immune. There is no shame in taking precautions, and the more men who are aware of their potential risk, equals more men who can catch the disease early and save their own life.