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Published on May 18, 2021

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Yes, It’s True: Men Get Breast Cancer

All humans have breast tissue – and that’s why all of us can face breast cancer, no matter who we are.

“It’s not common, but we see it, and we’ve seen an increase in male patients over the last 25 years,” said Jason Jones, MD, Avera Medical Group Oncology & Hematology, who has a dedicated breast oncology practice with Avera Cancer Institute. “The rate has gone up 25%, and it’s estimated about 2,650 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2021.”

More men – and the women who know and love them – should be aware of the facts, Jones said. But there are obstacles to making the point clear to everyone.

“The macho complex can get in the way, or the idea that it’s embarrassing,” he said. “Men have to get over that, because if those feelings stop them from getting a lump or other symptom checked, it could lead to a bad outcome.”

More than 44,000 people die from this cancer each year.

Male Breast Cancer Symptoms

Anyone, including men, can maintain awareness of their bodies. It’s a good first step toward health.

“When you feel something other than your ‘personal normal’ you should consider having it checked out,” Jones said. “There are not screening guidelines for men, but the warning signs of breast cancer apply to everyone.”

Those signs include:

  • Swelling of all or part of the breast
  • Skin irritation or pain
  • Nipple turning inward or sharp pain in nipples
  • Redness, thickening of the nipple or breast skin or dimpling, like the skin of an orange
  • Lumps in the chest or in the underarm area

“If you notice any of these signs, talk to your provider,” said Jones. “In cases of early detection, breast cancer is treatable and often curable.”

If you have parents, grandparents or siblings who have had breast cancer, your chances of having it are higher. Your body’s levels of estrogen, androgen and testosterone can also have roles in raising risk. Men who develop breast cancer are usually 60 or older.

Treatment for Breast Cancer

If you find a lump or other concerning sign on your chest, your provider may refer you to an oncologist or other cancer specialist.

“The process for diagnosis begins with mammography, and could also include ultrasound and biopsy,” said Jones. “That would lead to further testing, as well as an evaluation with our team.”

Avera Cancer Institute hosts regular tumor conferences where surgeons, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, oncologists like Jones, radiation oncology and pathology experts and others discuss each patient’s diagnosis and plans for treatment.

“Mastectomy is a common treatment, when needed. Our team includes specialized breast surgeons as well as plastic and reconstructive surgeons who are skilled to optimize clinical and cosmetic outcomes,” Jones said. “It’s rare for breast cancer to affect the muscle that lies under the breast tissue, so it’s unlikely to affect function or upper-body strength.”

Overcoming Stigma – Male Breast Cancer is Serious

A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833, yet it can and does happen. For women, the lifetime risk is 1 in 8.

Men might feel awkward considering this cancer, or feel uncertain about its likelihood.

“It’s a very serious illness and cancer of any body part – be it lungs, colon or breast – can occur,” Jones said. “It needs to be recognized for it to be treated. So don’t let shyness or embarrassment get in the way of your health.”

Learn more about breast cancer awareness, warning signs and treatment.

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