Hey Guys: Your Breasts Matter Too

Jun 23, 2022


When we think of breast cancer awareness, we usually picture women getting their annual mammograms or families in pink T-shirts participating in 5k walks to support the women in their lives.

But breast cancer doesn’t just affect women. In fact, about 1 out of every 100 cases of breast cancer is diagnosed in men.

Your risk of male breast cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, a man’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 833. That translates to about 2,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer in men that will be diagnosed in 2022. And it’s slightly more common among Black men than white men.

But since breast cancer isn’t usually caught in men until later stages, it has a higher mortality rate than in women.

“Reported studies have demonstrated that male breast cancer has a worse prognosis as compared with female breast cancer,” says Dr. Aaron Hicks, a radiation oncologist at Adventist Health Portland. “Men suffer from a higher risk of death from disease and shortened survival times, emphasizing the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.”

BRCA mutation: Genetic testing that’s not just for women

As in women, some genetic mutations increase a man’s risk of various cancers, including breast cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are inherited from a parent and increase breast cancer risk in both men and women, with the BRCA2 gene being more closely associated with breast cancer in men. In addition, the BRCA mutation has been linked with higher rates of other cancers in men, like prostate and pancreatic cancers.

If you have a family history of male breast cancer or the BRCA mutation, talk to your doctor about whether genetic testing is right for you. If you do have BRCA, your doctor may suggest more frequent screenings or risk-reducing surgery.

In addition, knowing whether you have the BRCA mutation can be important for future generations, since women who are at increased breast cancer risk due to BRCA have inherited it from their mother or their father.

Checking for lumps: What to watch for

Men have breast tissue just like women do, which is where breast cancer occurs, commonly presenting as a painless lump.

“The lump can sometimes be associated with overlying skin changes such as skin puckering, discoloration, skin ulceration or nipple retraction,” says Dr. Hicks. “If a man feels a lump in his breast, he should immediately contact his primary provider for a thorough evaluation including physical exam, diagnostic mammography and ultrasound.”

Even if you aren’t performing self-breast exams in the shower every month, be aware of your body and any changes to your breast area. Let your doctor know right away if something changes.

“Early detection of breast cancer in men is critical to achieving a successful outcome with treatment since the chance of cure is greatest when the disease is found early in its course,” says Dr. Hicks.

Preventing breast cancer

As with most cancers, maintaining and healthy weight, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol are all good ways to reduce your risk. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of rigorous exercise five days a week.

In addition, make sure you aren’t skipping your annual checkups with your primary care physician. Your provider can:

  • Answer questions that you may have about cancer.
  • Discuss your family history.
  • Suggest screening options as needed.

And if you do notice something different in your breast—don’t wait till your next physical. Call your provider’s office to schedule an appointment right away.

Get the care that’s right for you

Even though breast cancer in men is significantly less common than it is in women, we believe you deserve cancer care as unique as you are, delivered close to home right here in Portland. 

Learn more about our cancer care.