My name is Vicki Singer Wolf and in addition to being a four-time breast cancer survivor, wife, mother of three sons, and Mi-Mom to six beautiful grandchildren I am also the co-founder of HIS Breast Cancer Awareness, a male breast cancer nonprofit organization.
My brother Harvey (in the photo) and I co-founded this organization as we are both breast cancer survivors and both carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation. Having sons, we wanted to make a difference to help with awareness, education, and support, and stigma for those at risk of or diagnosed with this disease. I believe knowledge is power and we can make better decisions once we are educated.
Understanding Male Breast Cancer
“Sir, You Have Breast Cancer!” These are the first words Harvey heard when being diagnosed withmale breast cancer. Yes, men do have breast, tissue and often because no one is checking, male breast cancer is diagnosed when it is much further progressed. Male breast cancer accounts for about 1% of all diagnoses. Each year approximately 2,300 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 500 men will die in the U.S.
Young boys and girls both have breast tissue that includes structures we know as ducts. Once puberty begins, while girls will begin to develop these ducts with the production of female hormones, male hormones such as testosterone suppress the growth of breast tissue. Men still continue though to have non-functioning breast tissue behind their chest wall with cells that can cause uncontrolled abnormal growth. The most common breast cancer in men is ductal carcinoma where the cancer is contained in the duct. If cancer has spread outside the ducts, this would be called infiltrating, where it is now in the surrounding tissue. Another less common type of cancer for men may be Paget’s disease which involves cancer of the skin of the nipple or cystosarcoma phyllodes which is a cancer of the connective tissue surrounding the ducts.
Symptoms of breast cancer for menare similar to what women experience. . What is different is men need to be aware they can be diagnosed with breast cancer and know any symptoms, needs to be checked. Soreness of breast or lumps and bumps may not be just because of a hard workout in the gym or other heavy lifting, etc.
- Mass located under the nipple
- Inverted or retraction of the nipple
- Nipple discharge- may be bloody or clear
- Skin dimpling or puckering
- Itching of the nipple area
- Redness or scaling of the nipple
The average man in the United States has a risk factor of 0.1% of developing Breast Cancer in a lifetime. This rate increases in men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations to 1-5% with BRCA1 and 5-10% with BRCA2.There are many factors to consider regarding your risk factors such as family history, genetics, lifestyle, diet and nutrition, stress, weight, and exercise. All of these must be considered. The problem is, most of the information regarding these calculations is based on a female's risk but the same factors should be discussed and applied to the male.
See this checklist for risk factors for Hereditary Breast Cancer:
- Have you or any family member (male or female) had breast cancer?
- Has Breast Cancer occurred in more than one relative on the same side of the family?
- Has any man in your family had breast cancer?
- Has Breast Cancer been diagnosed in you or a family member earlier than 50 years of age?
- Do you have an "Ashkenazi Jewish"(central or eastern Europe) heritage with a personal or family history of breast cancer?
- Does anyone in your family have a history of pancreatic, colon, early-age prostate cancer, or melanoma?
If you answered "yes" to any or most of these questions, we suggest you meet with a genetics counselor to understand your cancer risk. Education is an important tool in prevention.
Examinations: Self Check, Mammogram, UltraSound & MRI
It is even more important for a male to learn how to perform a self-examination. As with a female, one must first become familiar with their own breast to notice when changes take place. You can click here to learn about how to perform a breast examination on yourself.
If you should notice any change, please contact your physician for the next steps to properly diagnose. Not every lump means a cancer diagnosis but should be checked by a qualified physician. Commonly mammograms, ultrasounds, or breast MRIs are utilized to evaluate breast masses in males.
Knowledge Is Power
Knowing men can be diagnosed with breast cancer is the first step for early detection.
Learning more about your risks of hereditary cancers and genetic mutations by speaking with a professional genetics counselor is highly recommended. If you do carry a genetic mutation, learning about your options for earlier surveillance, ways to help with prevention, and sharing with other family members so they learn their risk will help save lives.
You’ve taken the first step by becoming educated, now share this information so others can learn, make healthier changes to their lifestyle, and hopefully prevent a diagnosis. HIS Breast Cancer Awareness is here to help guide and support you while adding some blue to the sea of pink. Visit our website hisbreastcancer.org and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more information.
Editor: Vicki Singer Wolf, Co-founder
Modeh Ani, I Am Thankful