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When men develop breast cancer they are slower to seek help – and the most at risk

Recent figures indicate that around 1.7 million people will develop breast cancer each year, which means roughly 17,000 men could be affected annually. (Shutterstock)
DUBAI: Recent figures indicate that around 1.7 million people will develop breast cancer each year, which means roughly 17,000 men could be affected annually – enough to fill 19.5 Boeing A380 aircraft. However, those men face a higher mortality rate than women, because a lack of awareness often leads to a delay in seeking treatment.

Why? Because it is much harder to detect something when you are not looking for it – or you do not even consider it to be a possibility. The symptoms are revealed the same way, usually detected as a hard lump underneath the nipple and areola, but men are more likely to develop ‘significantly’ larger tumors due to the latecomer effect, and that is according to the largest gender-focused study on breast cancer ever conducted.

Men at risk
Breast cancer expert, Dr. Jon Greif, released his research in 2012, which compared the medical records of over 13,000 men who developed breast cancer, with those of more than 1.4 million women with the same plight Greif and his team found that the five-year survival rate for women overall was 83 percent, compared to 74 percent for men.

The study, presented at the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) annual meeting, notes that the average male diagnosis occurred at 63, while women were 59, and that male breast cancer is “nearly always found as a lump,” while many instances in females are detected before a lump is felt, through screening.

“Regular mammographic screening might even benefit certain high risk men, although no research or controlled trials have been conducted on male screening as there have been for women,” said Greif. “Men at risk include those with certain genetic predispositions, a history of breast cancer in the family, significant exposure to radiation in the chest area and a history of breast cancer,” he added.

A first-hand account
“I noticed a change in appearance of the areola on my left breast and didn’t really think about it too much,” recalls one survivor. “My wife also had breast cancer and had a lumpectomy and radiation… So I am aware of what is involved with breast cancer and also was aware of male breast cancer, but I didn’t think it was what was going with me.”

The anonymous male was 56 when he happened to be visiting his doctor for a diabetes check-up, but was taken by surprise when his physician recommended a mammogram, which was scheduled immediately at a local women’s center. Within days a core biopsy (tissue test) confirmed the cancer was present, and the mastectomy removed all the breast tissue including the nipple.

“Male breast cancer is rare,” he added. “The one breast cancer specialist I saw said that I am the fourth case in six years that she has been a specialist in a large hospital. You should just be aware that it exists and to check yourself or have someone check you if you have any questions.” It turned out his specialist found cancer in several of the lymph nodes that they checked, which led to more surgery, chemo and radiation.

Where to turn?
If you discover a lump or experience any other worrying symptoms – such as discharge from the nipple – then you should see your physician immediately. But prevention is better than having to deal with a cure, and that is even more poignant considering the intensity of chemotherapy and other treatments.

For men and women alike, examining your pectoral area for lumps or other possible symptoms is incredibly simple. This useful guide from the UAE-based Pink Caravan organization breaks down a few simple steps, and recommends moving your hands in a consistent motion over your chest tissue, making it easier to detect any changes.

The test is particularly important for anyone who may be more at risk; men with previous breast pathology, men with gynecomastia, those with a history of testicular pathology, and anyone who has history of breast cancer within the family. What is also important is understanding that, despite its rarity and female associations, breast cancer does pose a risk to men – and it is up to all of us to encourage anyone with symptoms to seek medical help immediately.

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