Early Detection Key for Both Women and Men
Every October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, people all across the nation join together to raise awareness about breast cancer and the importance of breast cancer screenings. The most common cancer among women in the United States, besides skin cancer, it impacts hundreds of thousands of individuals, as well as their families and friends, each year.
But, what many people don’t know is that men can get breast cancer, too.
“Even though men don’t have breasts like women, they do have a small amount of breast tissue,” says Maen Farha, MD, medical director of the new Breast Center at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital. “The breasts of an adult man are similar to the breasts of a girl before puberty. In girls, this tissue grows and develops … in boys, it doesn’t. Because it is still breast tissue, breast cancer can develop.”
Breast cancer in men is a rare disease. Less than one percent of all breast cancers occur in men. In 2018, about 2,550 men are expected to be diagnosed. For men, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer is about one in 1,000.
“Men get most of the same types of breast cancers that women do. The challenge in treating breast cancer in men is that it is often diagnosed later than it is in women,” Dr. Farha notes. “This is because many men ignore signs of a potential problem and are less likely to be suspicious of anything that seems odd.”
Michael Griffin, a 55-year-old breast cancer survivor, is fortunate that his cancer was diagnosed early. “I found a very small lump around my nipple and my wife, Sharon, who is a nurse, urged me to have it checked. I had my primary care physician look at it and the next thing you know I was scheduled for a mammogram.” After the mammogram, a biopsy revealed he had stage I breast cancer.
Griffin had previously worked as a surgical technician at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital where he had met Dr. Farha. He made an appointment with him and the next thing he remembers is discussing his treatment options with a multidisciplinary team of specialists.
“This approach gives patients access to their care team in one session rather than having them go from one office to another,” Dr. Farha explains. “Our team specializes in developing personalized plans tailored to each patient’s specific situation. Not only do they understand the medical intricacies of effective treatment, they understand how traumatizing a cancer diagnosis like this can be— especially for a man.”
“It really was a scary time,” Griffin says. “I couldn’t have gotten through it without my wife, the rest of my family, and my faith. I am truly blessed.”
The same treatments that are used in treating breast cancer in women are also used to treat it in men. Griffin had a mastectomy along with a lymph node biopsy to see if the cancer had spread, followed by 10 months of chemotherapy. He now takes Tamoxifen daily to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back, sees his doctors every six months, and has an annual screening mammogram of his remaining breast.
Griffin’s maternal grandmother had breast cancer, so he decided to undergo genetic testing to see if he had inherited any genetic mutations that might have contributed to the development of the disease. The tests were negative. “It gave me peace of mind. I have two daughters and three sons and wanted to know if any mutations could have been passed on to them,” Griffin says.
Dr. Farha notes that most breast cancers in men happen between the ages of 60 and 70. Other factors that raise the risk for male breast cancer include:
- Breast cancer in a close female relative
- History of radiation exposure of the chest
- Enlargement of breasts from drug or hormone treatments, or even some infections and poisons
- Taking estrogen
- Severe liver disease
- Diseases of the testicles
“There is no way to know who will develop breast cancer and who will not. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will definitely develop breast cancer. But knowing what your risks are can help you, your family, and your doctor make choices to help lower your risk,” explains Dr. Farha.
Since breast cancer in men is so rare, regular screening mammograms are not normally recommended for men like they are for women. “That’s why it is important for men to get anything that seems unusual checked out as soon as possible,” says Dr. Farha. “If you think there’s something wrong with you, follow up. The best way to reduce the number of deaths caused by breast cancer in both men and women is early detection and prompt treatment.”
This article appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Destination: Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.
The public is invited to tour the new Breast Center at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and meet our breast health experts on Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Registration is required as space is limited. Visit MedStarCancer.org/OpenHouse to sign up.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mammograms, along with clinical breast exams and general breast awareness, are vital for the early detection and successful treatment of breast cancer. Following are screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society:
Women ages 40 and older:
- Yearly mammogram
- Yearly clinical breast exam
- Monthly breast self-exam
Women ages 20 to 39:
- Clinical breast exam every three years
- Monthly breast self-exam
Some women, because of their family history, a genetic tendency, or certain other risk factors, should be screened earlier, more often or with additional tests. If you think you may fall into this category, talk with your healthcare provider for recommendations.