While breast cancer is usually considered to be a disease that affects women, men can get it too. This is because cancer, generally defined, is an abnormal growth of cells in a region of the body. Men have breast tissue, so cancerous cell growth can invade that region of their bodies.
Much of our biology is shared, and educating ourselves will help us counter the stigma around conditions like male breast cancer.
Because breast cancer is a rare disease for men, health tips on what to look out for are not common knowledge. The Mayo Clinic provides a list of symptoms that may warrant a check-up with a medical professional. These include “a painless lump or thickening of your breast tissue,” changes to either the skin covering your breast or your nipple, and “discharge from your nipple.”
If any symptomatic or concerning changes are noticed in the appearance or function of the breast area, a mammogram and other imaging can be made available to men through their medical team.
Similar to the genetic variations that result in a heightened breast cancer risk for women, men can also inherit genes that predispose them to the disease. Approximately 20% of those men who develop breast cancer have a family history of the disease. For example, genetic mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene can increase a man’s risk for breast cancer.
Specifically, a mutation in the BRCA1 gene results in a 1 in 100 chance of developing the disease, and a mutation in the BRCA2 gene results in a 7 in 100 chance. Thus, men with a family history of breast cancer may benefit from discussing their risks with a genetic counselor.
One robust resource available to those who want to learn more about male breast cancer is The Male Breast Cancer Coalition. It offers information on men’s breast self-exams and survivor stories to help support individuals who are starting out on their learning process.
A wider point is that sex differences do not result in completely diverse physiologies. Much of our biology is shared, and educating ourselves will help us counter the stigma around conditions like male breast cancer.