Male Breast Cancer: Aiming for Earlier Detection and Treatment

By: Scot Ackerman, M.D.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the time of year when pink ribbons appear on everything from soda cans to football helmets. During this time, we are reminded to pay attention to the health of the women in our lives.

The pink ribbon is a welcomed symbol of breast cancer awareness and support that has led to many advances in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. While we have done a great job getting the word out about breast cancer in women, most people are not nearly as informed about breast cancer in men. 

Breast cancer occurs in women nearly 100 times more often than it does in men, but men can, and do, get breast cancer. In 2015, approximately 2,350 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Like women, men with breast cancer may notice a lump (usually painless) or swelling in the breast, dimpled skin, redness, scaling, and/or nipple discharge. Unfortunately, men are much more likely to ignore these symptoms. 

Since men typically have less breast tissue than women, even small breast masses are easily detected. Sadly, these masses are likely to be brushed off as insignificant or unimportant. Hesitation in seeking medical care can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment, resulting in cancer growth. 

Male breast cancer treatment is most successful when initiated early in the disease. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and targeted immune therapy. 
I do not recommend routine breast cancer screening for all men, but those considered high-risk for breast cancer should monitor their own breasts for changes and schedule routine breast exams with their health care providers. 

Men at higher risk for breast cancer include those with a strong family history of breast cancer and those with family members who have BRCA mutations. Men who fall into the high-risk category may want to consider genetic testing. If testing reveals a BRCA mutation, that individual should be followed closely for any sign of breast cancer. Early diagnosis offers the best chance for a cure.