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Men's Health

'Women's' Diseases Men Get, Too

What it's like to be a man with breast cancer, lupus, or osteoporosis.
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Breast Cancer: One Man Per 108 Women continued...

Overall, men's outcomes aren't worse than women's, as long as they catch the tumor early enough. Men have estrogen in their systems, too, and most men's breast cancers contain receptors for the hormone, which allow it to influence the tumor.

As a result, guys tend to respond well to drugs that keep estrogen from encouraging breast cancer growth, Sledge tells WebMD. Many other treatments - surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy - are similar in men and women.

And guys may get a warning that they're at risk if the disease shows up in their family. Men who carry a BRCA2 gene mutation have about an 8% chance of getting breast cancer, though this is much less than the 40% or higher chance seen in women, Sledge says. Men with a BRCA1 gene mutation are also at higher risk of breast cancer.

However, after their diagnosis, guys don't find a community of peers waiting to welcome them, as women might. When men head to the golf club or gym, odds are better that "they could commiserate about prostate cancer or their heart attack, but there just isn't a large number of guys with breast cancer who can talk to each other," Sledge says.

Lupus: One Man Per Nine Women

For centuries, doctors have known that autoimmune diseases are more common in women, says Fotios Koumpouras, MD, a lupus specialist at the West Penn Allegheny Health System in Pittsburgh. The difference might be due to the way estrogen levels affect the immune system in women and men.

Among young people, lupus affects females especially heavily, he says. In our 50s and beyond, women still account for most cases, but men start to catch up. His older patients tend to be more concerned that they've developed a disease that pops up more in women. "I have 19-year-old men with lupus who don't care, per se," Koumpouras says. "The 55-year-old men may be a bit more traditional. You can sometimes feel there's a bit of reticence or embarrassment on their part over the diagnosis," he says.

Men tend to have more serious cases of the disease than women, Koumpouras says, and it's often especially severe in young men. However, men typically respond as well to treatments - which are mostly the same for men and women -- and the risk of death from the disease is similar.

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