Breast Cancer: Men are also susceptible

  • Published
  • By SMC Public Affairs
  • Space and Missile Systems Center

What do actor Richard Roundtree ("Shaft"), KISS drummer Peter Criss and two-time NFL Player of the Year Paul Dombroski of the New England Patriots have in common with thousands of other men? They are all survivors of male breast cancer.

With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, organizations from the National Football League to local entities such as the city of El Segundo’s Police Department and Lifeguard Tower 60 are diligently raising our collective consciousness about breast cancer awareness throughout the month.

It is widely thought breast cancer applied only to women. However, men also are susceptible to the disease.

"The most important thing for guys to understand about breast cancer is that men can and do get breast cancer," said Maj. Stefanie Knox, 61st Medical Squadron healthcare integrator.

According to the John W. Nick Foundation, dedicated to male breast cancer awareness, for every 124 women who contract breast cancer in the United States, at least one man will contract the disease. About 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in the U.S. Among these, 410 will die.

Many people are unaware that men can develop breast cancer and neither individual men themselves nor their physicians regularly examine men's breasts. Such a delay may in part occur because some men perceive breast cancer as a flaw in their masculinity and are reluctant to acknowledge its presence.

Men: What you need to know about male breast cancer

While breast cancer in men is rare - less than one percent of all diagnosed breast cancers - this year about 2,190 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed and about 410 men will die from breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Some risk factors attributed to breast cancer in men are changeable; others are more difficult or even impossible to change:

The incidence of breast cancer in men, like in women, increases with age. Although a case has been reported in a 5-year-old boy, it is rare before the age of 35. The average age of men at diagnosis is close to 65, about five years older than the average age for women.

According to the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program, breast cancer affects 14 black men and eight white men in every million. Some SEER studies also suggest that the prevalence is higher among Jewish males of European ancestry.

Abnormal hormonal activity, a factor that has been linked to the development of female breast cancer, could play a role in the development of male breast cancer as well. Several disorders with a hormonal component are associated with an increased risk of male breast cancer and numerous studies suggest that men with breast cancer display abnormal patterns of hormone metabolism and excretion. At the same time, it has long been known that men with breast cancer tend to respond well to hormone therapy.

A 1972 review of cases diagnosed since 1900 showed that men waited 18 months on average before seeking medical advice. For men diagnosed since 1951, this dropped to 10 months. This is why individuals should ask doctors to examine for any signs of cancer during checkups.

A painless lump, usually discovered by the patient, is by far the most common first symptom of male breast cancer. Typically, the lump appears right beneath the breast, where breast tissue is concentrated. A lump, however, is seldom the only symptom.

Most male breast cancers are not large. One study by the Mayo Clinic that reviewed a large number of cases found that 51 percent of the tumors were less than 1.5 inch in diameter, or about the size of a strawberry. Additionally, The Breast Cancer Now Male Breast Cancer Study found that men are more likely than women to have nipple discharge, sometimes bloody, and signs of local spreading, including nipple retraction, fixation to the skin or the underlying tissues, and skin ulceration.

Treatment of male breast cancer is generally similar to the treatment of female breast cancer. The basic therapy for cancer that shows no signs of distant spreading is surgery. In advanced stages, it is hormonal and chemotherapy. Also, it is always best to consult your physician about treatment alternatives.

As with female breast cancer, education and early detection saves lives.

"If you feel a lump in your breast or chest, then see your healthcare provider,” said Dr. Nick Orr, former leader of the Male Breast Cancer Study. “By far, most cases turn out to be nothing to worry about, but only a thorough examination by your provider and radiologist can determine with certainty."

For more information, visit the John W. Nick Foundation at, the Veteran's Administration at, or call the 61st Medical Squadron at (310) 653-2873.