Although most breast cancers occur in women, about 0.5% - 1% of breast cancers occur in men. The diagnosis and treatment are exactly the same as for women, as it is, to all intents and purposes, the same disease. Breast cancer is very rare in men, with nearly 400 men diagnosed each year compared to 54,800 women, according to Cancer Research UK.
The causes of breast cancer in men are not known. It is very rare in men under 60. It is also more common in men who have had several close members of their family, male or female, diagnosed with breast cancer:
- a close relative diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts
- a relative diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40
- several members of their family with cancer of the ovary or colon.
In rare circumstances, men with high oestrogen levels, or men who have been exposed to repeated doses of radiation, particularly at a young age, may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Men who have a rare genetic condition called Klinefelters Syndrome and have an extra female chromosome present also have an increased risk.
The principles are exactly the same as for women. The main difference is that most men will need a mastectomy, as there is not enough breast tissue simply to remove the lump alone.
Other treatments, such as hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy will depend on the exact type of cancer and its characteristics as determined by the pathologist.
There are special clinics if you think you may have an increased risk of developing cancer because of your family history. These are known as Family Cancer Genetic Clinics. Your GP can refer you to one of these clinics if they think you may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
It is often very difficult to find information and support when you are diagnosed with cancer, particularly a rare one. People find that they experience many different emotions, including anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety and fear. Many men especially find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about their breast cancer, because it more commonly affects women and is perceived as a womens disease. These are all normal reactions, and are part of the process many people go through in coming to terms with their illness.
Some people find it helpful to talk things over with their family doctor or nurse, or with one of our breast care nurses. Close friends and family members can also offer support.