Men get breast cancer too

While not as common, men are still at risk from breast cancer [Photo: via Pexels]
While not as common, men are still at risk from breast cancer [Photo: via Pexels]

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means women everywhere are being reminded to check their breasts for signs for lumps or any abnormalities. But though boobs might not be something we immediately associate with men, they still have breast tissue, which means they’re still at risk.

Recent statistics from revealed that only 20% of men would see their GP immediately with common symptoms of breast cancer, whilst 78% of men believe there to be poor awareness of the disease.

Meanwhile, 24% of British men don’t think they will be diagnosed with the condition – rising to 42% in the 18-24 age bracket.

But though breast cancer in men isn’t overly common – the NHS suggest around 350-400 cases occur in men each year – increasing awareness of the disease is crucial to saving lives.

“While women are significantly more likely to suffer from breast cancer, it is an issue that can affect men as well,” explains Dr Jan Schaefer, Chief Medical Officer at MEDIGO. “In fact, men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting it and, while the risks are significantly higher for women, men should also be aware of any potential warning signs.”

The biggest concern for experts is the lack of awareness surrounding male breast cancer, which can often mean a late diagnosis.

“In cases of male breast cancer, once the condition is diagnosed, 30-40% of the time it is at a III or IV stage,” Dr Schaefer continues. “At MEDIGO, a handful of the 80,000 patients we have helped were men with breast cancer and, unfortunately, all of them were already at a late stage, which supports the fact that there is a lack of awareness, not just amongst men but amongst their partners and caregivers too.”

Men need to be checking for signs of breast cancer [Photo: Vic Tor via Pexels]
Men need to be checking for signs of breast cancer [Photo: Vic Tor via Pexels]

Roy believes an early-ish breast cancer diagnosis could have been crucial in helping to save his life.

“I first realised something was wrong when my wife, noticed my right nipple was inverted,” he explains

“As a nurse, she had her suspicions but did not use the word cancer when asking me to go to our GP.”

Roy went to see his GP and was referred for further tests, where after scans, X-Rays and a biopsy of the breast and lymph nodes, he was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“After speaking with the oncology consultant surgeon I was told I’d need a full mastectomy of the right breast and removal of lymph nodes, 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by three weeks radiotherapy. This was followed by 1 Tamoxifen tablet per day for five years.”

Though lifesaving, Roy describes the side effects of the treatment, particularly the chemotherapy – hair loss, mouth ulcers, sickness – as challenging. “My taste buds were also severely affected. Everything tasted like cardboard. I felt incredibly weak due and slept a great deal,” he explains.

He credits a positive mental attitude and the support of his wife, friends and family for helping him through his treatment.

It has now been six years since Roy’s initial diagnosis and he is passionate about raising awareness about the fact that men can get breast cancer too.

“We need to take time to think about it in just the same way that women do. My advice to all men is simple. Check yourselves! The quicker you discover any lumps or bumps the quicker the disease can be found and dealt with.”

“I did not check my breasts and the lump had grown to 6 cm in size,” he continues. “Doctors believe it could have been about six months old. ‘Get to it, before it gets to you’ is my advice.”

Roy is also keen to point out that he has no history of breast cancer in his family, male or female.

“I look back at my journey and feel so fortunate to be a survivor,” he continues.

“I was one of the lucky ones.”

Just like with women, an early diagnosis of breast cancer can be life changing [Photo: Demeter Attila via Pexels]
Just like with women, an early diagnosis of breast cancer can be life changing [Photo: Demeter Attila via Pexels]

Male breast cancer: the facts
Dr Jan Schaefer, Chief Medical Officer at MEDIGO explains some of the symptoms men should be looking out for and when to seek medical help…

Risk factors

Not much research has been done into the causes of male breast cancer, as the chances of men having it are so much smaller. However, there are a number of factors that might increase the risk in men.

Family history and genetics could have a role to play. Men whose relatives had breast cancer are more susceptible to developing the disease in later years – especially in their 60s and 70s. Other known factors include radiation exposure and increased levels of, or exposure to, oestrogen. Oestrogen in men could be increased through medication, obesity and liver disease. Additionally, alcoholism has been found to have links with breast cancer in men.

What to look out for

Given the fact that the male breast is typically smaller than a woman’s, this makes spotting any symptoms easier, which is why it is essential that men know exactly what to look out for, to catch the condition early and get the required treatment.

It is important to know how to check yourself for any early signs of breast cancer. Whenever you have the opportunity, whether in the shower or just before bed, press your fingers flat against your chest (right hand for the left pectoral, and left hand for the right) and move your fingers in a clockwise motion. Check the entire area, starting from the outside and moving towards the nipple, looking out for any unusual bumps or lumps. An unusual lump is typically hard, not painful and doesn’t move around.

Once you’ve done this, check your nipples, looking out for any unusual discharge by gently squeezing each one in turn. You should also check for visual signs, such as the nipple turning inwards, a sore or rash around the nipple, or the surrounding skin becoming hard, red or blistered.

Lastly, you should also check your armpit for any unusual bumps, which can indicate swollen glands.

When to see your GP

The chances of men developing breast cancer are very low; however, if during a routine self-check you find any warning signs, like lumps, unusual discharge, rashes, or puckering of the skin, make sure to visit your GP. If you and your family have a history of breast cancer, make sure to mention this during your visit, along with any of the symptoms that you are experiencing.

For more information on male breast cancer and the signs and symptoms of breast cancer to watch out for visit Breast Cancer Now.

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