While women are significantly more likely to suffer from breast cancer, it is an issue that can affect men as well. In fact, men have a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting breast cancer and, while the risks are significantly higher for women, men should also be aware of any potential warning signs:
Is breast cancer a concern for men?
While women are 100 times more likely than men to get breast cancer, it is still important that men are aware of the condition. Sadly, the main concern for men is lack of awareness and therefore, 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. At my company 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.
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.
First of all, family history and genetics 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, estrogen. Estrogen 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.
First of all, 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 doctor
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 doctor. 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.
Dr Jan Schaefer is Chief Medical Officer at Medigo, the leading booking platform for safe medical travel.