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Warning signs of breast cancer in men and who’s at risk

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Breast cancer in men may be uncommon, but it’s possible. This is true for both cisgender and transgender men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 out of every 100 breast cancer diagnoses in the United States is found in men. The American Cancer Society estimated that 530 men would die from breast cancer in 2023. 

Everyone has breasts, regardless of gender, which means everyone has breast tissue. The structure of breasts is nearly identical across genders, but those born female have a few differences based on their need for milk production. The risk of developing breast cancer is much higher in women, but it is regularly found in men, too. 

While women are encouraged to get screened for breast cancer regularly, men are typically not exposed to this conversation. It’s essential to learn about the breast cancer risk men face as well as the symptoms they may run into. Without the understanding that men can get this type of cancer, too, they’re less likely to notice the signs or seek help if something in this area feels off. 

Understanding the Types of Breast Cancer

The most common types of breast cancer seen in men are IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma) and DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). IDC is the most common type of breast cancer overall, with about 75% of breast cancers being this type. 

Invasive means the cancer has spread into the surrounding breast tissues, and if it starts in the milk ducts, that’s ductal. With DCIS, the cancer is only in the duct lining, but it can spread and lead to invasive breast cancer. 

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

Common symptoms of breast cancer in men include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple pain
  • Nipple changes
  • Lump in breast
  • Swollen breasts
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the armpit
  • Redness in this area
  • Flaky skin in this area
  • Dimpling on breast
  • Irritation
  • Sensitivityย 

If these symptoms sound familiar, seeking professional care and visiting your doctor as soon as possible is best. The symptoms of breast cancer can appear due to other conditions, so it’s best not to assume your diagnosis and seek professional help. If you have similar symptoms, you may not be experiencing something as severe, but it’s essential to take it seriously. 

What Risk Factors Are Connected to Breast Cancer? 

Many things come into play that increase the chance of men getting breast cancer. Being overweight or obese, having liver disease, or a condition that affects the testis can all increase the risk of breast cancer. As you get older, the chances of you having breast cancer increase. Most men who will get breast cancer in their lives do so after turning 50. 

Genes also play a role. As the CDC explains, genetic mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of breast cancer. If there is a history of breast cancer in your family, that also means you have a higher chance of having breast cancer. Those with Klinefelter syndrome, which is a rare genetic condition, are also at a higher risk because this leads the body to produce more estrogen and fewer androgens.

Different treatments you may have throughout your life can also increase this risk. Those who have radiation therapy treatment on their chest area have a higher risk of ending up with breast cancer. Men who are treated for prostate cancer through hormone therapy are also at a higher risk because the drugs contain estrogen.

Although some people worry about it, there is no credible research that has found a link between breast cancer risk and bras or binders. 

Breast Cancer in Trans Men

Trans men are also at risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer in trans men is often related to their age, whether or not they’ve had a mastectomy and the amount of time they’ve been exposed to testosterone therapy. 

Top surgery typically leaves some breast tissues for cosmetic purposes, and a mastectomy removes the entire breast tissue, but some breast cells will still be there. In either case, trans men will still be at risk of breast cancer, but this risk is significantly lower than when they still had breasts. Those who have prophylactic mastectomy reduce their risk of breast cancer by around 90%

Is It Possible to Reduce the Risk? 

If you know breast cancer is something that has popped up throughout your family tree, have this conversation with your doctor. While you may feel embarrassed to do so, as we live in a world filled with toxic masculinity, it’s essential to bring this to your doctor’s attention. They are there to help you and not make you feel wrong about your concerns. 

A big part of reducing the risk of developing breast cancer has to do with being open and vulnerable about your and your family’s medical history. This may mean having genetic testing done. 

You may not even have to leave the comfort of your home to have some testing done as there are At-Home Genetic Tests that can tell you about genetic variants associated with increased risk of health conditions. These tools can’t diagnose you but can help you understand some of your genes better, and this knowledge can help you determine your next steps. 

How is Breast Cancer Treated?

Breast cancer treatments include: 

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Men need to pay attention to changes in the breast or nipple area. If you notice any lumps in the breast, chest, or underarms, visit a doctor. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and seek help if you think you may have breast cancer. The best way to protect yourself from breast cancer is to understand that it’s possible, know the risks, and don’t be afraid to talk about it. 

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