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Male Breast Cancer Treatment Options

While breast cancer is rare in men, anyone can get it. Any cell in your body can become cancerous. So even though men have a very small amount of breast tissue, cancer can develop there. About 2,360 American men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And about 430 men will die from it.

Studies have shown the prognosis is worse for male breast cancers as compared to female breast cancers, especially for African-American men. One reason is that breast cancer is not usually considered as a possible diagnosis for men, so it tends to be found in later stages.

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Fortunately, treatment for breast cancer has 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 breast cancer in men and women are generally the same. Many men benefit from a combination of different treatments. Here's an overview of the various approaches:

  • Surgery. The typical treatment for men is a mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed. Breast-conserving surgery -- in which just the tumor is taken out -- isn't usually possible for an obvious reason: Men don't have much breast tissue to allow for a clear surgical margin. The surgeon usually takes out one or more of the lymph nodes to see if the cancer has spread.
  • Radiation Therapy. Treatment with radioactive rays or particles may be used after surgery. It's used to help kill off any cancer cells that were missed in the surgery. In some cases, radiation may be the main treatment if the cancer is inoperable.
  • Chemotherapy. This is treatment with drugs -- either taken by mouth or by injection -- that attack cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used 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 (metastatic cancer), chemotherapy may be the primary treatment.
  • Endocrine Therapy. Some kinds of breast cancer need certain hormones to grow. Endocrine therapy blocks the effects of these hormones, stopping the growth of the cancer. Endocrine therapy is often more successful in men than in women, because more men -- about 90% -- have hormone receptor-positive cancer. The drug tamoxifen is the standard endocrine therapy for male breast cancer. The effects of the new aromatase inhibitors like anastrazole (Arimidex) and letrozole (Femara) haven't been studied much in men. Sometimes, removal of the testes reduces the amount of certain male hormones in the system. Men with breast cancer should never take testosterone, as it stimulates breast cancer cell growth.

    Endocrine therapy is often used 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.

  • Biological Therapy. Some men have an excess of a protein that makes cancer spread quickly. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a drug that's been approved to treat metastatic breast cancer. It stops this protein (HER2) from making cancer cells grow. It may also boost your immune system, giving it more strength to fight the cancer itself.

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