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Meigs Health Matters: Breast cancer impacts men as well as women

By Courtney Midkiff - Contributing Columnist

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In October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — it seems the world turns pink in support of survivors of the disease. Retail stores sell merchandise featuring pink ribbons and bras and sporting teams wear pink to promote early detection and awareness.

Breast cancer is mostly commonly diagnosed in females, but did you know men can develop breast cancer too? The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates for breast cancer in men in the United States for 2017 are about 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed; about 460 men will die from breast cancer. Although certain risk factors may increase a man’s chances of developing breast cancer, the cause of most breast cancers in men is unknown.

The ACS reports it doesn’t yet completely understand the causes of breast cancer in men, but researchers have found several factors that may increase the risk of getting it. As with female breast cancer, many of these factors are related to the body’s sex hormone levels.

1. Aging is an important risk factor for the development of breast cancer in men. The risk of breast cancer goes up as a man ages.

2. Breast cancer risk is increased if other members of the family (blood relatives) have had breast cancer.

3. Men with a mutation (defect) in the BRCA2 gene have an increased risk of breast cancer.

4. Klinefelter syndrome is a congenital condition (present at birth) that affects about 1 in 1,000 men.

5. A man whose chest area has been treated with radiation (such as for the treatment of a cancer in the chest, such as lymphoma) has an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

6. Heavy drinking (of alcoholic beverages) increases the risk of breast cancer in men.

7. The liver plays an important role in sex hormone metabolism by making binding proteins that carry the hormones in the blood. These binding proteins affect the hormones’ activity. Men with severe liver disease such as cirrhosis have relatively low levels of androgens and higher estrogen levels. They have a higher rate of benign male breast growth (gynecomastia) and also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

8. Estrogen-related drugs were once used in hormonal therapy for men with prostate cancer. This treatment may slightly increase breast cancer risk.

9. Studies have shown that women’s breast cancer risk is increased by obesity (being extremely overweight) after menopause. Obesity is probably a risk factor for male breast cancer too. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as that of many other diseases and cancers.

10. Some studies have suggested that certain conditions, such as having an undescended testicle, having mumps as an adult, or having one or both testicles surgically removed (orchiectomy) may increase male breast cancer risk. Although the risk seems to be increased, overall it is still low.

11. Some reports have suggested an increased risk in men who work in hot environments such as steel mills. This could be because being exposed to higher temperatures for long periods of time can affect testicles, which in turn would affect hormone levels. Men heavily exposed to gasoline fumes might also have a higher risk. More research is needed to confirm these findings.

Per the ACS, there are some things a man can do to lower his risk of breast cancer: maintaining an ideal body weight and restricting alcohol consumption are 2 of them. But since the cause of most breast cancers is not known, there is no known way to prevent them. For now, the best strategies for reducing the number of deaths caused by this disease are early detection and prompt treatment. Early detection has been a problem for men, who may not notice breast lumps or see their doctor only when the lumps have gotten large. In general, men are diagnosed with breast cancers at more advanced stages than are women.

There are many similarities between breast cancer in men and women, but there are some important differences that affect finding it early. The most obvious difference between the male and female breast is size.

Another difference is that breast cancer is common among women and rare among men. Women tend to be aware of this disease and its possible warning signs, but many men do not think that they can get it at all. Some men ignore breast lumps or think they are caused by an infection or some other reason, and they do not get medical treatment until the mass has had a chance to grow. Some men are embarrassed when they find a breast lump and worry that someone might question their masculinity. This could also delay diagnosis and reduce a man’s chances for successful treatment. Because breast cancer is so uncommon in men, there is unlikely to be any benefit in screening men in the general population for breast cancer with mammograms or other tests, according to the ACS.

How Is Breast Cancer in Men Diagnosed? If there is a chance you have breast cancer, your doctor will want to get a complete personal and family medical history. A thorough breast exam will be done to locate any lumps or suspicious areas and to feel their texture, size, and relationship to the skin and muscle tissue. The doctor may also examine the rest of your body to look for any evidence of possible spread, such as enlarged lymph nodes (especially under the arm) or an enlarged liver. Your general physical condition may also be evaluated.

If the history and physical exam results suggest breast cancer may be possible, several types of tests may be done: 1. A mammogram is an x-ray exam of the breast; 2. Breast ultrasound is often used to evaluate breast abnormalities that are found during mammography or a physical exam; 3. MRI; 4. Fluid leaking from the nipple is called nipple discharge. If you have a nipple discharge, you should have it checked by your doctor. If there is blood in this fluid, you might need more tests. 5. Biopsy removes a body tissue sample to be looked at under a microscope. A biopsy is the only way to tell if a breast abnormality is cancerous.

In conclusion, breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women, but it is still a concern. Gentlemen, please contact your healthcare provider for more information, especially if you have a painless lump or thickening in your breast tissue; changes to the skin covering your breast, such as dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling; changes to your nipple, such as redness or scaling, or a nipple that begins to turn inward; discharge from your nipple.

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Meigs Health Matters: Breast cancer impacts men as well as women

By Courtney Midkiff

Contributing Columnist

Courtney Midkiff is the Administrator at the Meigs County Health Department.

Courtney Midkiff is the Administrator at the Meigs County Health Department.