Breast cancer has long been viewed as a disease that strikes women, but when it does hit men, the results can be much more fatal because many men fail to recognize symptoms, according to the Associated Press.
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Women with breast cancer were found to live two years longer than men, according to Dr. Jon Greif, a California breast surgeon, who last Friday presented his study at a meeting of American Society of Breast Surgeons in Phoenix, Ariz.
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Findings also showed that men’s breast tumors were larger at diagnosis, more advanced, and more likely to have spread to other parts of the body. Men were also diagnosed later in life; in the study, they men were 63 years old on average, versus 59 years old for women.
The researchers analyzed 10 years of national data on breast cancer cases, from 1998 to 2007. A total of 13,457 male patients diagnosed during those years were included, versus 1.4 million women. The database contains about 75 percent of all U.S. breast cancer cases, the AP reports.
Dr. Jacqueline Miller, medical director of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) national breast and cervical cancer early detection program in Atlanta, was not surprised by the findings, she told NewsOne:
Many men do not realize they, too, can get breast cancer.
“Breast cancer is a rare disease to develop in men,” she said. “To give you context, it is likely to be detected in 120 per 100,000 women and 1.5 per 100,000 men. Men may not have any symptoms, and because of that, more cases may be diagnosed at a later stage, which is why you will see higher death rates in men.”
The bottom line, Miller explained, is that it’s not that more men are dying of breast cancer, it’s just that there are fewer cases than women on a population level.
“When you look at the numbers, it’s clear,” she said. “In 2007, about 40,000 women died of breast cancer compared to 370 men.”
The problem is that far too many men do not know that they have breast cancer and far too many doctors fail to check for the disease, says Dr. Rani G. Whitfield, a family practitioner based in Baton Rouge, La., who is also known as the Hip-Hop Doc.
“Since there is no breast cancer screening for men the way there is for women, I make it a point during annual exams with my male patients to ask questions about changes,” Whitfield told NewsOne. “Two of my older male patients were found to have to have breast tumors. But we detected it early.”
He points to male breast cancer survivor Richard Roundtree, who is best known for his iconic role as “John Shaft,” who was the personification of male strength and masculinity in the ‘70s-era “Shaft” movies. Because the disease is rare in men, Roundtree has said the he was in the closet so-to-speak until he was cancer-free.
A finding in Greif’s study shows that men’s breast tumors might be biologically different from women’s: Men with the early-stage of the disease had worse survival rates than women with early-stage cancer, the AP reports.
The causes of breast cancer in men are not well-studied, but some of the same things that increase women’s chances for developing it also affect men, including older age, cancer-linked gene mutations, a family history of the disease, and heavy drinking.
There are no formal guidelines for detecting breast cancer in men. The American Cancer Society says routine, across-the-board screening of men is unlikely to be beneficial because the disease is so rare.
For men at high risk because of a strong family history or genetic mutations, mammograms and breast exams may be helpful, but men should discuss this with their doctors, the group says.
Men’s breast cancer usually shows up as a lump under or near a nipple. Nipple discharge and breasts that are misshapen or don’t match are also possible signs that should be checked out.
“There is no breast cancer screening criteria for men and some doctors don’t look for it,” Whitfield said. “But for years I’ve been motivated and stimulated by women who urge me to speak about male breast cancer, which is why I include it in my annual physicals. We have to raise awareness about this problem.
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