Male Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

By Janene Mascarella

Article male breast cancer

When you hear the words breast cancer, most often you ‘think pink’ and associate the disease primarily with women. Many are surprised to learn that although rare, males can in fact develop breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates about 2,360 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed and About 430 men will die from breast cancer in 2014. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

“It is possible for males to get breast cancer because even though they don’t have fully formed breasts, some elements of ductal tissue are still present and can therefore develop cancers as they would in women,” says Elliot M. Hirsch, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Los Angeles. He also underscores the statistics and says “males can get breast cancer- but don’t worry, it’s very rare.”

A Case of Courage

One man that isn’t afraid to say he faced this devastating disease is Bret Miller, a four-year breast cancer survivor who found his lump at age 17. It took doctors seven years to diagnose Brett because even doctors kept insisting that it was calcium and he was becoming a man. That was unfortunately not the case. Bret’s journey has been one that he wished no other man to go through.

“When I tell people that I am a breast cancer survivor they look at me like I just told them a joke,” says Brett. “I then pull up my shirt to show them my scar and proceed to tell them that, although rare in men, I am living proof that it can happen.” Brett says with early detection you can beat this disease. that is why he started the Bret Miller 1T Foundation and is co-founder of Male Breast Cancer Coalition. Through his foundation, Brett speaks at high schools and colleges to help build awareness and stress how early detection is so important. The Male Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) is a collection of foundations, male survivor journeys and various medical professionals all coming together to help raise awareness and let men know they are not alone.

A Deeper Understanding

What are some early signs to look for? When present, male breast cancer sometimes shows up as a painless breast mass on one side, explains Hirsch. “There may occasionally be changes in the skin on the chest wall, or even nipple discharge or nipple retraction. Most men who develop male breast cancer are around the age of 70, but these symptoms are concerning in males of any age and should promptly be brought to the attention of a medical professional. Treatment for male breast cancer depends on its stage when discovered and usually consists of some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.”

Because male breast cancer is so rare, Hirsch says most men don’t need to worry about any special screening or tests. However, men who have a parent or sibling that is a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 carrier, or men who have a strong family history of breast cancer should be considered high risk and should consider screening or testing. “Other risk factors for male breast cancer include Klinefelter’s syndrome, radiation exposure, exposure to certain carcinogens, obesity, exposure to estrogens, and liver cirrhosis,” Hirsch says. “For men who are at risk, monthly self-examination should be considered along with bi-annual examinations by a medical professional. Additional testing such a mammography and genetic evaluation may be considered as indicated.”

Brett stresses the importance of just being proactive and staying on top of anything that might not be normal or raise a red flag. “Check yourself for lumps, discoloration or discharges as those are signs that I myself disregarded for far too long,” Hirsh says. “Know your body because you are your own best doctor, if you find anything that seems out of the ordinary, get to the doctor. “