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Male breast cancer is rare, but does occur
October 17, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Although it’s extremely rare, breast cancer does occur in men – and a trigger point could be in the medications they’re taking.

“The primary reason we find breast cancer in men is related to an estrogen effect,” said Dr. Stephen Johnson, a radiologist at Regional West Medical Center. “It’s called gynocomastia and it’s almost always related to some medications they may be taking.”

One category of drug Johnson pointed out was drugs to treat enlarged prostate in men, which contain estrogen. But there are other causal factors that can increase estrogen levels, such as alcohol and the inhalation of marijuana smoke.

“Males have breast tissue, but it doesn’t develop normally,” he said. “That changes when an estrogen effect comes into play. Of the men we see, about 99 percent of them have gynocomastia. We do mammograms to make sure there isn’t a tumor growing in the tissue.”

Johnson said in the last 20 years he’s been at Regional West, he’s seen only one case of breast cancer in men, although they conduct about three or four mammograms each month on men.

“Male breast cancer is extremely rare,” Johnson said. “It has all the same characteristics as breast cancer in women. But having gynocomastia doesn’t increase a man’s chances of developing breast cancer.”

He said the treatment for male breast cancer is the same as for female patients, which includes a mammogram, an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy of any discovered lump or tumor. Most often, male breast tumors are solitary, so only the tumor needs to be removed and not the supporting tissue. And depending on the size of the tumor, radiation or chemotherapy might be necessary.

Johnson said periodic mammograms aren’t needed for men because the cancer is so rare. Cases are usually handled clinically, with a recommendation from a family physician. “If men are concerned, they need to be checked out,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to find out you’re okay.”
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