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What is Male Breast Cancer?

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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Male breast cancer, like female breast cancer, is caused by the abnormal growth or mutation of cells in the breast tissue. Males have a small amount of breast tissue directly behind each nipple that is composed of nonfunctioning ducts, fat, and connective tissue. According to the Mayo Clinic, women are about 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer than men. Due to its rarity, male breast cancer often goes undiagnosed until its later stages, causing the assumption that its prognosis was worse than that of female breast cancer. In actuality, the prognoses are the same, though awareness of female breast cancer is more widespread.

The most common symptom of male breast cancer is a small, hard lump or nodule in the breast tissue. These lumps are usually painless, often causing them to go unnoticed by men who do not regularly check their breast tissue for abnormalities. Other symptoms of male breast cancer include puckering of the skin around the nipple, a new indentation in the nipple tissue, scaling or redness of the breast tissue or nipple, and nipple discharge. Although any of these symptoms may be harmless or indicative of a different disorder such as gynecomastia, or enlarged male breasts, a physician should evaluate any of these conditions to rule out the possibility of breast cancer.

The exact cause of male breast cancer is unknown, but about one in six cases is inherited. Inherited genetic mutations, as well as acquired gene mutations resulting from radiation exposure or other unknown factors, are thought to be largely responsible for cases of male breast cancer. Most cases of male breast cancer are diagnosed in patients between the ages of 60 and 70. Liver disease, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to estrogen-related drugs also increase the risk of developing male breast cancer.

A doctor may perform a clinical breast exam, mammogram, breast ultrasound, or biopsy to examine the breast tissue and any lumps or abnormalities to determine if cancerous cells are present. If cancer is detected, one of several staging tests will be performed to determine the exact location of the cancer and whether or not it has spread. Staging tests are important to create a suitable treatment plan, and may include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Male breast cancer treatment options are generally the same as those for female breast cancer. Some patients may only need surgery, while others may require a combination of surgical and additional therapies such as radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy to block estrogen receptors. The most common treatment method is a mastectomy.

A mastectomy is performed to remove the breast tissue and often some of the lymph nodes under the arm. In cases where the cancer has spread into the chest muscles, part or all of the muscle tissue may be removed as well. It is important to discuss all available treatment options with a trusted healthcare provider.

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