Most men don’t like to see doctors, and when they eventually do, they don’t think about breast cancer when talking about preventive screening. If you were part of a survey that stated, “men don’t take as good care of themselves as women do,” would you agree? Because men are less likely to develop the disease, most consider themselves invulnerable to breast cancer. But the reality is, as long as you have breasts, you’re at risk of getting a diagnosis.

Although breast cancer in men is rare, it’s crucial to understand your risk factors and possibilities for progression. In the next year, about 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will arise in men, and about 500 will lose their lives because of it. Genetic factors play an ample role in male breast cancer. Although you can’t control your genes, you can effectively create a difference by raising awareness, scheduling annual screenings, and supplying yourself with up-to-date information. 

Cancer doesn’t care if you are Grammy-award winner Beyonce. It somehow always seems to weave its way into your life. Recently, Mathew Knowles, Beyonce’s father, scheduled a mammogram after bloody discharge started to drain from his nipple. He also noticed specks of blood on his t-shirts and bedsheets. His diagnosis was stage 1A breast cancer. He immediately underwent a mastectomy after taking a BRCA gene mutation test, which determines whether a person has a higher risk of developing the disease. 

Once Mathew Knowles received his diagnosis, he quickly urged his two daughters to get tested for the BRCA2 gene mutation because of its association with an increased risk of breast, ovarian, cervical, and other cancers. Fortunately, both received negative results. Breast cancer isn’t always genetic, but while the average man has a 0.1% chance of developing the disease, this rate increases in men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations to 1-5% with BRCA1 and 5-10% with BRCA2.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Most men aren’t receiving a breast cancer diagnosis until it progresses and has been located inside another organ. The result is often fatal, and male breast cancer patients have a 19% higher mortality rate than females. The causes are the same for men as they are for women, which include higher levels of estrogen, family history, genetics, lifestyle, or other exposures. However, if you inherit a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation from your mother or father, these specific genes can increase your risk. 

Early detection is necessary to guarantee a positive outcome and to increase the likeliness of survival. Like women, men will need to become familiar with the structure of their breasts to know what they are examining. Soreness, tenderness, and pain around the chest area isn’t always the result of exercise. You should visit a doctor if you feel a mass underneath the nipple, skin dimpling, itching, redness, observe inverted or retraction of the nipple, and clear or bloody discharge. 

Other warning signs and symptoms may include:

  • Lump or swelling under lymph nodes
  • Hard breast tissue
  • Bulging under the collarbone 

Since it’s uncommon to prescribe ultrasounds and mammograms to men, you should learn how to perform a self-examination check. 

How to Perform a Male Breast Self Exam

  • Stand in front of a mirror and put your hand on your hips to tighten your chest muscles. Raise your arm above your head and inspect each breast and armpit one at a time. Look for abnormalities such as dimpling, swelling, and discharge.
  • Move your fingertips around the breast tissue in a circular motion or up-and-down pattern. Be consistent and use the same method each time. Complete on both breasts.
  • You can also examine your breasts lying down. Place a pillow under your left or right shoulder and use the opposite hand to press on all areas of the breast.

Currently, some insurance plans have limited coverage for male mammograms, so you will need to check-in with your provider to determine yours. 

What Men Should Know About Breast Cancer

The vast majority of male breast cancer cases are Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), which means cells in and around the ducts invade the surrounding tissue. It’s less common for men to experience inflammatory breast cancer. Men who test positive for the BRCA genes must realize that their child or future children have a 50% risk of being a carrier. If you have a son, his chances of developing the disease are about 6%, but a female child’s risk skyrockets to between 40% and 80%. 

Cancer Genomics (CGX) Testing for Prevention

Although the majority of male breast cancer cases occur in those who don’t have a family history of the disease, men who inherit abnormal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have an increased risk. Taking a cancer genomic (CGX) test can identify specific, inheritable gene mutations that can predict your hereditary predisposition. Discovering if you are a carrier doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer or will develop it, but CGX testing results will provide valuable information that can aid in prevention and treatment. 

Because there is a strong association with the BRCA2 gene and male breast cancer, genetic testing may also be recommended for first degree relatives. Some family members may be harder to convince than others to get tested, which is why it’s beneficial to seek guidance and support from a genetic counselor who can help you understand the benefits and limitations of testing. It’s important to note that BRCA mutations may also raise your risk of developing prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, or melanoma. 

Genetic Counseling Support

Men and women should consider genetic counseling for breast cancer when there is:

  • Male breast cancers present in your family, or clusterings of other cancers such as colon, prostate, stomach or pancreatic
  • Elevated numbers of family members with cancer diagnoses (especially breast and ovarian) throughout multiple generations, on your mother or father’s side
  • A family member is diagnosed with cancer before age 50
  • Family members have been diagnosed with multiple cancers

Don’t wait until you hear about another man receiving a breast cancer diagnosis to seek prevention. Genetic counseling services are available to discover how your genes work for you and against you. A genetic counselor can provide you with an accurate assessment of your risk for hereditary cancers that might be present in your family. He or she will also teach you the basics of cancer genomics and perform a complete personal and family history evaluation. 

After explaining the difference between a positive and negative result, a genetic counselor can suggest the best route for followup care and monitoring if necessary. Deciding to undergo genetic testing and receive genetic counseling services is a personal decision that only you can make. But it’s a choice that could reveal valuable information to save your life. Many men do not feel comfortable speaking out about breast cancer, but it’s time to change that. 

Pink and Blue Awareness Ribbon because it’s not just women who get breast cancer