In men breast cancer is very rare, and statistics (Most developing African countries) with regards to this is very scanty, if not none at all.This is because so many many cases of breast cancer have been reported in women and as such, most of the information has been directed towards them. Very few people know that it can also affect men. And I have taken it upon myself to be part of the movement that helps raise awareness…especially with regards to men.Getting support is difficult since it is rare. We are not immune to this and should take it seriously !
It is advantageous to note that most of the information that men with breast cancer need is the same as that of women.The symptoms,diagnosis and treatment are all very similar to women with breast cancer, but the risks and causes do vary slightly. “So what are the symptoms?”, you may ask.Patience, I’m about to get there …
The most common symptom for men with breast cancer is a lump in the breast area. This is nearly always painless. Other symptoms may include:
- Oozing from the nipple( a discharge that may be blood stained)
- Swelling of the breast;
- A sore(ulcer) in the skin of the breast;
- A nipple that pulled into the breast( also called nipple retraction); and
- Lumps under the arm.
It is important to go to a doctor or physician straight away if one presents any of the symptoms above.
The same treatments are used for breast cancer in men as for women. Treatment is decided by the stage of the cancer and whether the cancer cells have receptors for particular hormones. By stage I mean the size of the cancer and whether it has spread when it is diagnosed.The staging system likewise, is the same for men as it is for women with breast cancer. To treat breast cancer, one may have one or more of the following treatments:
- Hormone therapy; and
- Biological therapy.
The most important operation for men with breast cancer is removal of the whole breast (mastectomy), including the nipple. There is not much breast tissue in men, so it isn’t usually possible to leave any behind. Sometimes the surgeon also removes part of the underlying muscle if it is close to the cancer. For men diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, the surgeon may remove some of the lymph nodes from the armpit. They send the nodes to the laboratory to see if they contain cancer cells.
In men, the cancer is always close to the muscle of the chest wall because there is so little breast tissue. So a specialist is most likely to recommend radiotherapy after surgery. This treatment lowers the risk of the cancer cells growing back in the chest wall in the future.
This is most commonly given after surgery and before radiotherapy. The doctor will take various factors into account to see whether or not one needs chemotherapy to help reduce the chances of cancer coming back.However, the chemotherapy is recommended only when one has either of the following:
- Cancer cells in the lymph node under the arm;
- The tumor is larger than 2cm;
- The person is young; and
- The cancer is high grade.
The most common hormone therapy for male breast cancer is Tamoxifen and the side effects are much the same as that in women .It can make you feel sick when you start taking it, but this wears off quickly with time. Other side effects include weight gain, hot flushes, difficulty sleeping , sadness and depression.
Risks and causes of male breast cancer:
As with women, the single biggest risk factor for male breast cancer is getting older.Most men diagnosed with breast cancer in Southern Africa are between the ages of 60 and 70. Other risk factors are:
- High estrogen levels;
- Exposure to radiation;
- family history or an inherited faulty gene; and
- Klinefelter’s syndrome( Google it !)
Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis is difficult, since this is a rare condition in men.One can easily feel confused and isolated. Most men seek treatment in large specialist hospitals which are expensive.But the important thing here is that finding breast cancer early gives a better chance of successful treatment.