If you guessed “myth,” you are correct. Like women, men have breast tissue and therefore are also at risk for breast cancer.

Breast cancer doesn’t play favorites when it comes to choosing its victims. Based on statistics from the American Cancer Society, in 2017, nearly 2,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be discovered in men, and about 500 of these men will die of the disease.

The good news is that male breast cancer is uncommon – about 100 times less likely to occur in men than women. However, the risk factors are similar to those for women, and if detected in time, can be treated effectively.

What increases my risk for male breast cancer?

As you grow older, your risk for breast cancer increases. In men, the average age of diagnosis is 68. Other risk factors include:

  • Radiation exposure to the chest (such as treatment for other cancers at young age)
  • A family history of breast cancer, especially if other men in your family have had the disease
  • Klinefelter syndrome, where there are lower levels of androgens (male hormones and higher levels of estrogen (female hormones) in your body
  • High estrogen levels from artificial hormones or exposure to estrogen in the environment
  • Being overweight
  • Heavy alcohol use

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of male breast cancer are:

  • A lump or swelling in the breast
  • Nipple pain or discharge
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin of the chest
  • Sores, scaling or redness on the nipple or areola
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm

If you have any of these symptoms, your doctor may order a mammogram or ultrasound. If the test uncovers an abnormality, your doctor will most likely order a biopsy to determine treatment.

The biggest mistake that men make when they think they have breast cancer is to wait before seeing a doctor. In fact, one study found that the average time between the first symptom and diagnosis was 19 months. Time is key; the earlier the diagnosis, the more treatment options available and the greater chance of survival.

“While breast cancer in women is widely publicized, there is a general lack of knowledge that men can also get breast cancer,” said Jason Ye, a radiation oncologist at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center of Keck Medicine of USC. “Furthermore, men may feel stigmatized at the idea of having breast cancer, a disease attributed to women, feel confused, alone and depressed. These factors contribute to delays in seeking medical help from the doctors and allow the disease to progress to higher stage before treatment.”

How will my disease be treated?

Treatment depends on the size, location of the tumor and how advanced the cancer is. Possible treatments include anti-estrogen and chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy.

Because male breast cancer is so rare, occurring 100 times less frequently than female breast cancer, there is little specific research into its diagnosis and treatment. But, thanks in part to advances for women in research for breast cancer continue, with survival rates climbing as new technologies and treatments are discovered, there also have been advances in treating breast cancer in men.

“In a national database study I conducted in 2015, there were no significant changes in male breast cancer treatment from 1998 to 2011,” Dr. Ye said. “However, the same study also showed that male breast cancer shares many similarities to female breast cancer. Its prognosis is closely related to the grade (how aggressive the cells appear under the microscope), histology (the type of cancer cells), stage of the disease, and presence of estrogen receptors on the cells.

“Thus, thanks in part to the advances in research for breast cancer in women, with survival rates climbing as new technologies and treatments are discovered, there is hope for men with breast cancer as well.”

For 40 years, the National Cancer Institute has recognized USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center as one of the leading comprehensive cancers centers in the country.

Visit one of the world-renowned specialists at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC to learn more about cancer screenings and how they might benefit you. If you are in the Los Angeles area, make an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visiting https://cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.

By Heidi Tyline King