Although significantly fewer men are diagnosed with breast cancer than women, it is important to spread awareness about the signs so that men can take early action to protect their health. Here are some of the early symptoms of breast cancer in men.
Male breast cancer—it’s real
While incidences of breast cancer in men are rare, they’re certainly there. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates about 2,470 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men and 460 men will die from the disease in 2017 alone. “Unfortunately, male breast cancer is often detected in advanced stages,” says Hamid Abdollahi, MD, surgeon at The Plastic Surgery Center. “This is partially in part due to the lack of awareness that man can develop breast cancer.” To shed light on this disease that does not only affect women, here are some signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for if you happen to be a male. =
Most men with breast cancer will notice a firm, painless lump on what they would refer to as their pecs (pectoral muscles) that is behind or close to their nipple area. “This is different from the breast lumps found in benign gynecomastia, or enlarged breasts in men due to hormonal imbalance,” notes Brandon Behjatnia, MD, a TopLine MD physician. “Gynecomastia usually manifests as an easily compressible, mobile, soft mass behind the nipple.” However, he explains that lumps related to cancer are not mobile or soft. Instead, they’re rather firm and are not easy to move under the skin. To determine whether or not a lump is cancerous, breast imaging and sometimes a needle biopsy are required.
Changes in breast shape or size
In addition to the appearance of a lump in the breast or pectoral region, men may notice an odd change in size. This change may be a size increase over time or even overnight, says Dr. Abdollahi. It may also be a change in shape. “This is also a sign of something happening under the skin,” he says. “This is often painless and very slight changes to the area, but serious nonetheless.”
If you notice changes in the appearance, shape or texture of your nipples, it’s worth mentioning to your doctor, as nipple involvement is noticeable in 40 to 50 percent of the male breast cancer cases. “These changes may include nipple retraction, or inversion (where the nipple is inverted), redness, scaling or discharge,” explains Dr. Behjatnia. Dennis Holmes, MD, breast cancer surgeon and researcher and interim director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, explains that the most common reason for nipple retraction is a cancer that is stuck to both the skin and the pectoralis muscle. It’s important to note, however, that nipple retraction in men can also be caused by benign conditions.
Sometimes, the first sign of breast cancer can be skin changes on the chest. “Men with inflammatory breast cancer can present with skin redness or a rash and edema, or the accumulation of fluid in the chest muscle tissue, that can mimic an infection,” says Sharon H. Giordano, MD, BCRF Investigator Chair and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Oftentimes a rash or subtle redness can go unnoticed, as a patient may refer to it as caused by friction from a physical activity or even an unhealed wound. Other concerning skin changes can be firm nodule or ulceration on or near the nipple.
In women, nipple discharge, even in women who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding, can be normal. The same is not true for men. In fact, it is often an early warning sign of breast cancer. “This one, men usually don’t ignore and this is the trigger that gets them to realize that something is not right and an underlying issue,” says Dr. Abdollahi. This discharge may be clear, but it can also be accompanied by blood, in which the patient would notice it by stains on their shirt. If you notice discharge of any kind, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Breast or nipple pain
While breast pain is a nonspecific sign and can be seen with many non-cancer causes too, Dr.Behjatnia warns that it may be a sign of breast cancer. “The pain related to breast cancer is usually focal and persistent, unrelated to any trauma or physical activity,” he says. “The pain is predominantly in the nipple area.” If you’re experiencing unexplained pain in your nipple or breast area that does not go away after a few days, schedule an appointment with your practitioner.
Because breast cancer in men is usually diagnosed in later stages, cancer can spread outside of the breast to other parts of the body. According to Dr. Giordano, bone is the most common site for breast cancer to spread. “When this happens, bone pain is the most common symptom and can lead men to seek medical care and get diagnosed.”
Enlarged lymph nodes
Another place cancer can spread is to the lymph nodes. “As a result, when breast cancer does develop in a man, there is a higher chance that the cancer would have spread to the lymph nodes by the time the cancer is detected in the breast,” says Dr. Holmes. If you notice one or more painful lumps near or under your armpit area, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
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If you develop any of these signs or symptoms, you should be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible. “Men can undergo mammogram and ultrasound to further evaluate any suspicious lesions and then have biopsy is necessary,” says Dr. Giordano. “Although male breast cancer is relatively rare—about 1 percent of all breast cancers occur in men—it is important for men to be aware that they, too, can be affected.” In other words, there is no reason to delay evaluation if you believe you have one or several of the symptoms mentioned. “Diagnosing cancer at the earliest stages will lead to the best outcomes and better survival,” Dr. Giordano adds.
Source: Readers Digest