Men and breast cancer
Since males also have breast tissue, they can develop breast cancer. However, breast cancer is far less common in males than females because their breast duct cells are less developed and are not constantly exposed to the tumour-promoting effects of female hormones.
Men account for almost one per cent of breast cancer cases (164 diagnoses per year), with a female to male ratio of 118 to 1. These figures can mean that being a man diagnosed with what is usually considered a ‘woman’s disease’ can be lonely and sometimes feel embarrassing.
On a practical level, this also means that fewer diagnosis, treatment and support services are available for men due to the low numbers of the population affected. For example, because men don’t have much in the way of breast tissue, mammograms are not effective and are not offered.
Breast cancer is more difficult to detect in men of any age, however, it’s important for men who find a change in their breasts not to let embarrassment or uncertainty prevent them from seeing their doctor without delay. Early detection and treatment are the best way to survive the disease.
Unfortunately, its rarity has resulted in a lack of male breast cancer specific national or international research and as a result, little is still known about male breast cancer with all treatment taken from knowledge attained from female breast cancer studies, which is not ideal.
How is male breast cancer different than female breast cancer?
- Men tend to develop breast cancer at an older age than women – this may be in part because men often delay reporting symptoms.
- Men are often diagnosed at later stages of disease than women – this again may be tied to delays in reporting symptoms and lack of screening.
- Male breast cancers occur more frequently in BRCA2 mutation carriers (and to a lesser extent in BRCA1 carriers) when compared to male breast cancers that occur in the general population without a family history of cancer.
What is different about treating breast cancer in men?
- Because men typically have less breast tissue than women, mastectomies are more common
- Men are more likely to receive hormonal therapy – this is tied to the higher rate of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in men
Partners of women with breast cancer
Another, far larger, group of men are those whose loved ones are diagnosed with breast cancer – the emotional wellbeing of those men is often are overlooked while their partners are coping with diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Breast cancer affects whole families, and NBCF’s recent report, Ending the Silence, aims to address the gap in information, resources and support which exists for male partners of women living with breast cancer.
Partners can struggle with a range of issues, including lack of information, inclusion and support, through to the changing dynamic of their relationship, as well as concerns about finances, sexual intimacy and body image.
As more and more women survive breast cancer, providing support for the needs of their partners is becoming more and more critical.