Male Breast Cancer Detected Later

But Survival Rates Similar to Women

From the WebMD Archives

June 6, 2003 -- Male breast cancer is rare, but most men who have it often don't realize it until it's advanced.

That's the finding from a new study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting held this week in Chicago.

Male breast cancer accounts for only about 1% of all breast cancer cases -- or about 1,600 new cases in the United States in 2002.

"But men should be alert to the possibility that the disease could affect them," says lead researcher, Sharon Giordano, MD, of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in a news release.

Male Breast Lumps Need Diagnosis

Men often have a benign breast condition called gynecomastia -- enlargement of the male breast. In fact, about one-third of males may have benign lumps in breast tissue at some point in their lives, says Giordano.

These benign lumps are especially common in adolescent boys, and can come and go over a man's lifetime. Therefore, "men may think new growth of breast tissue is just another occurrence of this condition," she explains.

But male breast lumps can be cancerous. In their study, Giordano and colleagues analyzed data from 1973 to 1998 on 2,524 cases of male breast cancer and 380,856 cases of female breast cancer.

Compared with female patients, male breast cancer patients were:

  • Significantly older when diagnosed
  • More likely to have cancer that was advanced
  • More likely to have cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes

Despite these differences, the survival rates were not different between the female and male breast cancer patients, she reports.

Interesting note: The men's tumors were estrogen receptor-positive, which implies that tamoxifen could also work as a treatment for male breast cancer, Giordano reports.

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SOURCES: Abstract, American Society of Clinical Oncology. News release, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
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