Male Breast Cancer (MBC) is an under-discussed reality of men’s health. It accounts for about 0.5 to 4 per cent of all breast cancer cases. Putting some light on this usually ignored condition, Dr. Deepak Jha, Clinical Lead Breast Surgery & Sr. Consultant Surgical Oncology, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram, tells us all about male breast cancer.

He says, “Even though breast cancer is generally thought to affect only women, this disease can occur in men as well, since the male breasts also contain the tissues that can develop cancer. A breast lump in a man is often ignored with the assumption that it is either gynecomastia or that it would go away with age, instead, it develops into a tumour. The ignored lump grows with time and involves surrounding skin and starts discharging fluid and blood. A visit to the doctor then reveals the diagnosis and a small lump has by now developed into an advanced stage disease.”

MBC is seen more often in the age group of 50-70 years. It often starts with a painless lump which can be detected by regular self-examination. Other signs can be changes in the skin of the breast (redness, dimpling) and in the nipple (scaling, inward turn). Nipple discharge, especially a bloody discharge, is another warning sign. There can be many subtypes of male breast cancer, however, ‘Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type, just as in females.

“There are many factors that increase the risk of developing breast cancer in men. A strong family history of breast cancer or presence in the family of genetic mutation associated with Breast cancer increases the risk of breast cancer. A history of exposure to radiation for treatment of other cancers and liver insufficiency that leads to increase female hormones also enhances the risk of MBC.”, says Dr. Deepak.

“People using estrogen-related drugs for hormone therapy are at a higher risk of catching the disease. Klinefelter’s syndrome is a genetic condition in which a baby boy is born with extra X-chromosome. Men with Klinefelter syndrome have lower male hormone (androgens) and higher levels of female hormone (estrogens), hence putting them at higher risk of gynecomastia and breast cancer. Obesity and Performance-enhancing drugs that are often used in unsupervised and haphazard manner in gyms may also cause gynecomastia and hormonal imbalances leading higher risk MBC.”, says Dr. Deepak.

It is common belief that breast cancer happens only in women which makes men skeptic even when abnormalities are evident and the examination is delayed. Thus, the misconception works as an obstacle in the earlier detection of the complication. Men are usually diagnosed with the ailment at an advanced stage which increases the mortality rate among them as compared to female breast cancer patients.

Dr. Deepak Jha states, considering the stigma associated with MBC, it is pertinent to raise awareness about the disease and encourage men to visit a doctor in case any strange lump is observed. Diagnosis and treatment procedures applied in MBC are similar to the processes identified with women breast cancer. Physical exams, mammography, biopsies are some common diagnosis processes of diagnosis and treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy etc. Men often have tumors that respond better to hormone therapy. A higher awareness coupled with amenability to early detection due to lesser breast tissue does give a better chance in the battle against this fatal disease.