Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What you need to know about male breast cancer

Breast cancer, which is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer seen in women, can affect men as well. In fact, the incidence of male breast cancer (MBC) is estimated at around 0.5 – 1 per cent of all breast cancer cases. “This is a rare male malignancy, but according to various recent studies, the incidence is slowly increasing; this creates the need to spread awareness for the same,” says Dr Kunjal Patel, molecular oncopathologist, Neuberg Centre for Genomic Centre.

According to the doctor, MBC usually gets diagnosed at an advanced age, since men tend to ignore the occurrence of any lump or swelling in their breasts. “It can be considered a disease of elderly men. The risk usually starts from the age of 60 and increases as the age advances, with the maximum cases found in the age group of 70-75 years,” says Dr Patel.

Citing a survey conducted by Goyal in the year 2020 — that revealed around 81 per cent of men from their cohort were unaware of the signs of MBC and what measures can be taken for early or timely detection — the doctor says we are in an “era of early intervention and precision medicine”, and it is “important to understand the risk factors, prognosis, and early management of MBC”.

Ahmedabad-based Neuberg Center for Genomic Medicine (NCGM) surveyed breast cancer awareness and found that around 78 per cent of individuals from a cohort of 231 individuals (men and women) were unaware of MBC, she states.

What are the risk factors?

Dr Patel says the risk factors are many. “…lifestyle factors, occupational exposure to carcinogens, family history, and genetics,” she says.

“In most cases, MBC is seen with a positive family history of cancer, high levels of estrogen, advanced age, and certain chromosomal abnormalities such as Klinefelter syndrome. About 20 per cent of men, who develop breast cancer, may inherit mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene or other high-risk genes such as CHECK2, PTEN, or PALB2,” the doctor explains, adding that men with a BRCA2 gene mutation have a higher chance (7 in 100) of developing breast cancer, compared to BRCA1 gene mutation (1 in 100).

“In a small study by NCGM, in a cohort of 20 males (14 affected and 6 unaffected/tested only for BRCA1/2 genes), two were found to have BRCA1 mutations and two had BRCA2 pathogenic mutations, and all of them had positive family history of cancer.”

It should be noted that men with breast cancer need to be offered genetic counseling and testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 and other inherited cancer risk genes.

The doctor advises, “Screening for breast cancer, especially with a positive family history, has its benefits. It helps to get a diagnosis even before you develop the disease, and it can help in lowering the advancement of the disease and getting appropriate treatment in time.”

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