Men and Breast Cancer: Should You Be Tested?

July 25, 2017 | by City of Hope

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, and there are more than 3 million female breast cancer survivors in the United States alone. 

What many people don’t realize is that men, too, can experience breast cancer. Though much rarer in men than in women, about 2,470 new cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. 

“Since it is such an uncommon problem, I think both patients and physicians sometimes don’t recognize the significance of what they’re looking at” when it comes to breast cancer symptoms in men, said Joanne Mortimer, M.D., the Baum Family Professor in Women’s Cancers, vice chair and professor of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and director of the Women's Cancers Program at City of Hope.

Read on to learn the basics about breast cancer in men. 
 

Family history and genetics 

Researchers aren’t entirely certain what factors cause men to develop tumors in their breast tissue. They know that risk goes up as men age. Family history and genetics can also raise the risk. 

Women who have mutations, or defects, in certain genes are known to have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are particularly significant culprits. Those genes also boost the risk of breast cancer among men -- especially the BRCA2 gene, said Mortimer. 

Even if a man tests positive for such mutations, however, his overall risk is still low. About one in 100 men who test positive for BRCA1 mutations will develop cancer in their lifetimes, while the risk for men with a BRCA2 mutation is about six in 100.
 

Should men have genetic testing for breast cancer?

Given the low odds, Mortimer doesn’t recommend men run out to be tested for genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. 

However, men who know that such a mutation runs in their family may wish to consider genetic testing. In such cases, Mortimer recommends patients discuss the pros and cons of testing with a genetic counselor or a doctor with genetics training. 

Another factor to keep in mind: BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations can also increase the risk of other cancers, including cancers of the prostate and pancreas.
 

Know the signs

On the other hand, most men who develop breast cancer don’t have known genetic mutations, Mortimer said. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer: 

  • A lump or mass in the breast tissue. (As in women, this is by far the most common symptom in men, said Mortimer.)

  • Dimpled or puckered skin

  • Retraction of the nipple

  • Redness or scaling on the breast or nipple

  • Nipple discharge

If you notice these signs, don’t ignore them. Treating cancer early, before it spreads, increases the chances of successful treatment.

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