According to studies, one in 30 girls may develop breast cancer during her lifetime. But did you know that one in 400 men also contract the disease? Oncology surgeon Dr Ramakant Deshpande says, “In the US, over 2,000 men were affected in 2012. Generally, men with breast cancer have lower survival rates — probably because the disease spreads rapidly due to scanty tissue in the breast area. While 83% women are likely to be alive five years afterearly-stage diagnosis and treatment, the percentage would be 73% for men.”
Oncology surgeon Dr Sanjay Sharma says it’s a myth that breast cancer is prevalent only among women. “While breast cancer is rare in men, it isn’t an unknown phenomenon. Often, the disease is diagnosed at an advanced stage, as men tend to overlook the possibility of breast cancer and avoid routine screenings,” he says.
An abnormal breast cell growth that may be cancerous is stimulated by high estrogen (female hormone) levels. Factors that influence it include:
-Regular consumption of hormonal medicines or herbal supplements.
-Increased body weight due to unhealthy dietary habits.
-Smoking and/or chronic alcoholism.
-Genetic aberrations like Klinefelter Syndrome elevate estrogen levels in men.
Men with a family history of breast cancer stand high risk as they may inherit either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
A significant indicative factor is a lump in the breast. “The lump is easily noticeable in men as they possess a flat, small breast tissue. There may also be a combination of one or more symptoms like scaling and dimpling of skin surrounding the nipple or breast area, nipple pain and discharge, enlarged lymph nodes under the arm or sores around the nipple and areola region. Inexceptional cases, gynecomastia i.e. enlargement of breasts in men may lead to breast cancer,” says Dr Sharma.
Diagnosis usually begins with routine tests like mammography and ultrasound. “A trucut/core biopsy or fine needle biopsy is then performed to understand the size, type and kind of breast cancer. Certain additional tests — MRI, blood tests, chest X-ray and bone scan — are also recommended to understand the extent to which the cancer has spread,” adds Dr Sharma.
Often, the tumour remains painless till it ulcerates through the skin; spreads through the lymphatics into the armpit and neck lymph nodes; or through the bloodstream into liver, lungs and bones. “In early stages, when the disease is only in the breast or armpit, (stage I and II) surgery — complete removal of the breast area with clearance of the lymph nodal area — forms the mainstay of treatment. To prevent recurrence, the patient may need chemotherapy, radiation, or both, depending on the stage of the disease. Hormonal therapy often helps control the disease for long,” says Dr Deshpande.
“Radiation is also highly helpful in relieving patients who suffer from painful bone metastases or neurological symptoms caused by breast cancer. Further, it helps reduce bleeding around the breast area and decreases the chances of breaking a bone that has been weakened by cancer. After extensive treatment, patients are put on anti-hormonal drugs to help them cope with the after-effects of surgery and radiation therapy,” adds Dr Sharma.