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May 16, 2011, last updated February 18, 2016
By Michael Chang, Contributing Columnist
Marathons, fundraisers, and other breast cancer campaigns have
sought to bring awareness to the disease that has inflicted women for
years. However, while the vast majority of breast cancer cases do occur
in women, there is a small percentage of men who suffer from this
condition, a statistic that is rarely broadcasted, even with these breast
cancer awareness campaigns.
You might be wondering how men can suffer from a condition whose
very name suggests it is a disease that inflicts women. Contrary to
popular belief, men do possess a small amount of breast tissue that is
concentrated behind the nipple that cannot produce milk. Similar to
breast cancer in women, men suffer from this disease when the
abnormal cells of this breast tissue grow uncontrollably.
While it is undoubtedly a rare condition, accounting for only about 1%
of all breast cancer cases, male breast cancer is still a concern for those
inflicted. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2010, there will
be approximately 1,970 newly diagnosed cases of male breast cancer
and will result in about 390 deaths. Even though breast cancer is 100
times more common in women and even though a man’s risk of
developing this condition is approximately 1/10 of 1%, it is important
to understand the causes and symptoms of the condition, as well as the
ways to reduce the risks.
Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer
When detecting the symptoms of the condition, you need to keep a
lookout for telltale signs of breast cancer. The most obvious and
common symptom of male breast cancer is a lump behind the nipple.
Just as women as encouraged to routinely check their mammary glands
for tumors, lumps, and other signs of breast cancer, men should also
keep an eye out for any similar signs. Other signs and symptoms of this
condition include pain, changes in skin, changes in lymph nodes,
fatigue, and even difficulty swallowing.
Causes of Male Breast Cancer
As with any medical condition, it is difficult to pinpoint the direct cause;
however, there are particular causes that put certain people at more
risk than others—particular demographics, lifestyles, or environments.
Here are some of the most common causes of male breast cancer:
• Radiation exposure: Exposure to ionizing radiation may
potentially increase the risk of developing male breast cancer. Those
who have gone through radiation therapy to treat other medical
conditions in the chest area, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, have an
increased risk for breast cancer.
• Hyperestroegnism: Men normally produce a minimal amount of
estrogen, a female hormone. However, certain men produce an
abnormally high level of estrogen. Sometimes, in response to the
elevated levels of estrogen, the male breasts will become enlarged and
thus, increasing the risk of male breast cancer.
• Klinefelter’s Syndrome: This genetic condition that affected
about one in 1,000 men increases the risk of male breast cancer. A
normal man has two sex chromosome (an X from his mother and a Y
from his father); however, men with this syndrome have an additional
inherited female X chromosome. While they are still male, these patients
produce high levels of estrogen, develop large breasts, sparse facial
and body hair, and the inability to produce semen. The risk of
development of male breast cancer for these patients is up to 50 times
that of normal men.
10 Ways to Reduce Your Risk
1. Lower Alcohol Consumption to Lower Risk
According to a study published by Cancer Research UK in 2011, alcohol
is a risk factor for breast cancer. The study of one million middle-aged
British women concludes that each daily alcohol beverage increases the
incidence of breast cancer by 11 cases per 1000 women. Even just one
or two alcoholic beverages per day increases the relative risk to 150%
of normal risk. And six drinks per day increases that risk to an
astounding 330% of normal risk.
Alcohol causes breast cancer, in both men and women, due to the
increased estrogen level. Because of the increased risks of male breast
cancer due to alcohol consumption, reducing the quantity of alcohol
consumed with significantly reduce your risk.
Cirrhosis of the liver, which occurs from primarily from alcohol abuse or
genetic conditions, can result in higher incidences of male breast
cancer. The liver is responsible to the transport and delivery of male
and female hormones in the bloodstream and when cirrhosis occurs,
the liver functions are compromised, affecting and altering the male and
female hormones. Consequently, men with cirrhosis have increased
levels of estrogen, putting them at higher risk of breast cancer.
2. Association Between Breast Cancer and Fat Intake
Dietary influences play a huge role in your health, including the
development of male breast cancer. According to a 2003 study by
Harvard Medical School, rates of obesity have strong linkages with
breast cancer development.
The study suggests that low-fat diets may decrease the risk as well as
recurrence of breast cancer. Moreover, individuals who suffer from
obesity are at higher risk because obese men have elevated levels of
estrogen and consequently enlarged breasts.
Taking steps towards a healthy, well-balanced diet will not only lower
your risks for breast cancer, but it will also provide many health perks
3. Consumption of Vitamin D Can Lower Breast Cancer Risks
Vitamin D has been found to lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
According to a 2011 study conducted at the University of Rochester
Medical Center, lower vitamin D levels among patients were associated
with more aggressive tumors and poorer prognosis.
Consequently, doctors have been using the levels of vitamin D as a way
to predict the patient’s outcome. In order to reduce those risks,
increasing your intake of vitamin D-rich can greatly help you ward off
Salmon contains 425 IU of Vitamin D in a 3-ounce serving, which is
more than half of the minimum of 600 IU per day recommended for a
person under age 70 by the Institute of Medicine in the US.
So, eat more salmon and mackerel and soak up that sun.
4. Eat Your Brassica Vegetables to Decrease Risks
Those who eat their broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussel
sprouts will be glad to know that increase consumption of Brassica
vegetables is inversely related to breast cancer development. According
to a 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association, those who consumed around 1.5 serving of Brassica
vegetables per day has 42% less risk of developing breast cancer than
those who did not consumer any vegetables. So, when your mother
told you to eat your vegetables, she was right!
5. Mushrooms Can Lower Your Risk Level
A 2009 University of Western Australia study, which studied the diets
of 2,018 women in Hangzhou, China, concluded that those who
consumed mushrooms had an approximately 50% lower incidence of
breast cancer. Even consuming less than one button mushroom daily
would many health benefits. Incorporating mushrooms into your diet
could be a great way to ward off developing breast cancer. Who knew
that these little fungi could do so much good for you?
6. Smoking Tobacco Can Put You At Higher Risk
While many studies throughout the past few decades had not
conclusively linked smoking tobacco with breast cancer development,
recent studies have suggested that there is an increased risk of breast
cancer among active smokers. According to a 2011 West Virginia
University study, active smokers are subject to higher risks of
developing breast cancer due to the mammary carcinogens in smoke.
Thus, beyond the many health detriments already caused by smoking
tobacco, you can add another one to the list.
7. Exposure to Passive Smoking Can Cause Cancer
Even if you do not choose to smoke cigarettes yourself, exposure to
second-hand smoke can be just as deadly. According to a 2005 report
by the California Environmental Protection Agency, passive smoking
increases breast cancer risk by 70% in younger individuals. While you
might not be able to control others smoking around you, you can
reduce the instances in which you are surrounded by second-hand
8. Catch the Problem Early on with Routine Self-Checkups
Any health education course throughout your primary and secondary
education has taught young girls to routinely check their breasts for
any lumps and irregularities. Similarly, young men are taught to do the
same with their testicles to ensure testicular cancer does not develop.
However, because men can also suffer from male breast cancer, it is
also important to check that lumps are not developing in their breast
tissue. Getting in the habit of checking before or after a shower can
help you stay in tuned with potential symptoms that might warrant a
trip to the doctor.
9. Iodine Deficiency Reduces Protection Against Breast Cancer
Iodine deficiency has been seen as a protective supplement against
breast cancer due to examination and research on iodine consumption.
In Japan, women consumer 25% more iodine dietary iodine than
American women and incidences of breast cancer are less. Moreover,
since the 1970s, breast cancer incidences have increased whereas
iodine consumption decreased. Increasing your iodine intake can
protect your body against breast cancer, so eat your spinach, seafood,
10. Make Regular Visits to the Doctor’s Office
Men are notorious for avoiding the doctors. If it were not for the
women in their lives, they would perhaps avoid making these dreaded
appointments at all. However, this is unfortunate because many
diseases and conditions can be diagnosed early on and treated much
more easily. Scheduling routine medical exams to ensure that
everything is in order will definitely reduce the risk of falling victim to
male breast cancer. Even if you get the condition, an early doctor’s visit
will definitely increase the odds of you surviving.
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|Richard Roundtree, who starred in the
1970's classic "Shaft", was diagnosed
with male breast cancer in 1993 and
has become a spokesman to raise
awareness of the disease