Q: I just found out a male friend of mine had breast cancer. At first I thought he was joking. But its no joke. He had a mastectomy and some follow-up chemo! How common is it and how does a guy know if hes at risk?
PHILLIP K, MUSKEGO, WISC.
A: For men, the odds of developing breast cancer are about 1 in 1,000. Its 100 times more common in women, but since males are born with a small amount of breast tissue, albeit nonfunctioning, the risk is there. About 1,900 men are diagnosed annually (versus 192,000 women) and more than 400 men (40,000 women) die every year from breast cancer.
Men develop breast cancer for the same reasons women do: elevated estrogen levels; excess fat tissue, which releases inflammatory cytokines; previous radiation exposure; and a family history of breast cancer and other specific genetic risk factors. A mutation of the BRCA2 gene puts men at high risk of both breast and prostate cancer.
Men are rarely tested for that gene mutation, but if breast cancer, especially at a young age, runs in your family, its a good idea for both male and female family members to get the test.
Symptoms of male breast cancer include scaling, redness or dimpling of the skin covering the breast or nipple; a nipple that turns inward or has discharge; and a lump or thickening in breast tissue. Unfortunately, male breast cancer is usually diagnosed late, because men dont get symptoms checked out by a doc, figuring breast cancer cant happen to them. But guys, early detection and treatment means higher survival rates.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of The Dr. Oz Show, and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.