While breast cancer is rare in men, it does happen. Any cell in your body can become cancerous. So even though men have a very small amount of breast tissue, cancer can develop there. In fact, about 2,350 American men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The risk of a man getting breast cancer in his lifetime is about 1 per 1000.
Because breast cancer is so uncommon in men, it’s often not diagnosed until the cancer is in a later stage. This makes it more difficult to treat.
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But treatments for breast cancer have come a long way for both men and women. If you catch it at an early stage, your odds for recovery are excellent. And even the most advanced cancers can usually be treated, possibly improving your quality of life and letting you live longer.
What Are the Treatments for Male Breast Cancer?
Treatments for men and women are generally the same. Many men benefit from a combination of different treatments, such as:
Surgery. The typical treatment for men is a mastectomy, in which your entire breast is removed. Breast-conserving surgery -- in which just the tumor is taken out -- usually isn't possible. Men typically don't have enough breast tissue to allow it. Often, the surgeon also takes out one or more of your lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread.
Radiation Therapy. You may have treatment with radioactive rays or particles after surgery. It can help kill off any cancer cells that were missed in the surgery. If the cancer is inoperable, radiation may be your main treatment.
Chemotherapy. With this treatment, you’ll be given drugs -- either taken by mouth or by injection -- to attack the cancer cells. You may have chemotherapy after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. For men with advanced cancer or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be the primary treatment.
Hormone Therapy. Some kinds of breast cancer need certain hormones to grow. This therapy blocks the effects of these hormones, stopping the growth of the cancer. It’s often more successful in men than in women because more men -- about 90% -- have hormone receptor-positive cancer. The drug tamoxifen is the standard hormone therapy for male breast cancer. Sometimes, removal of the testes reduces the amount of certain male hormones in the system. Men with breast cancer should never take testosterone because it causes breast cancer cells to grow.
You may have hormone therapy after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. For men with locally advanced or metastatic cancer, it may be the primary treatment.
Targeted Therapy. Some men have an excess of a protein (HER2) that makes cancer spread quickly. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a drug that's been approved to treat breast cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. It stops this protein from making cancer cells grow. It may also boost your immune system, giving it more strength to fight the cancer.
Remember, like anyone who has breast cancer or who has recovered from it, you'll need checkups with your doctor for the rest of your life. Getting regular medical care is key to staying healthy.