Breast cancer in men – how common is it?

Breast cancer in men is rare but it happens. (Photo: Pexels)

Breast cancer is commonly associated with women but in fact, it can occur in men too, though it is extremely rare. The National Cancer Centre Singapore reports one case of male breast cancer in 2014, five cases in 2013 and six each in 2010 and 2006.

Due to lack of awareness and lack of routine screening, breast cancer in men is typically detected at an advanced stage.

As with women, a primary symptom of breast cancer in men is a hard and painless lump, often in one breast. Other symptoms include:

  • Dimpling, redness and changes in breast skin
  • Rash, swelling around the nipple
  • Changes in the nipple, inverted nipple
  • Nipple discharge, bleeding from the nipple
  • Lump/swelling in the armpit because of swollen lymph glands

At an advanced stage, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body – the bones, lungs and liver – and cause symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, aches and pains, yellowing of the skin/eyes.

Causes and risk factors of breast cancer in men

While the exact cause of breast cancer in men is unknown, there are certain risk factors associated with it. These include:

  • Ageing – breast cancer usually occurs in older men, over the age of 60
  • Obesity – this is associated with a higher level of oestrogen in the body
  • Oestrogen treatment
  • Mutation in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes
  • Enlargement of the breasts (gynecomastia)
  • Testicle injury/disease
  • Family history of breast cancer (in male or female family members)
  • Exposure to radiation in the chest area
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Liver disease
  • Klinefelter syndrome – a condition in which males are born with an extra X chromosome

Diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

Self-examination is the best way to detect breast cancer early. If you notice a lump or any change in your breast tissue, consult your doctor who will carry out a physical examination, mammogram/ultrasound and a biopsy to determine if it’s cancer.

As with women, treatment options for breast cancer in men typically involve surgery to remove the affected breast tissue, followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Hormone therapy may also be used. If the cancer is detected early, there’s a good chance it can be cured.


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