October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although the focus in October is about women and breast cancer, truth be told, men can get breast cancer too. Breast cancer in men is a rare disease. Less than 1% of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2015, about 2,360 men are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, based on data from BreastCancer.org. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000. Although this may seem low to you, it is still a risk and needs to be openly discussed.
You may be thinking: Men don’t have breasts, so how can they get breast cancer? The truth is that everyone has breast tissue. The various hormones in female bodies stimulate the breast tissue to grow into full breasts. Male bodies typically do not make much of the breast-stimulating hormones’; therefore, their breast tissue usually stays flat and small. Still, you can walk around town today and see males with medium-sized or big breasts. In most cases, this is from being overweight. But sometimes men can develop real breast gland tissue, because they take certain medicines or have abnormal hormone levels. This can create an environment where breast cancer can occur.
Although breast cancer in men is rare, it does not mean they cannot get this disease. As we encourage women each month to complete a breast self-examination, we want men to do so too. Next time you visit your doctor, talk more about the potential risk. Early detection is the best chance for successful treatment.