Male breast cancer is being treated differently than breast cancer in women, researchers say.
Specifically, the University of Colorado Cancer Centers scientists say male breast cancer is treated more often with mastectomy and less often with radiation than female breast cancer is.
Dr. Rachel Rabinovitch, the lead author of the study, says they wanted to conduct this research because so little is known about male breast cancer. Male breast cancer cases make up only about 0.6 percent of all cases so almost all that we know about its treatment is based upon female cases.
In order to learn about the differences in treatment strategies, the researchers used data from 4,276 male breast cancer patients and 718,587 female breast cancer patients. They took data from the U.S. Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program database. This database includes cancer statistics – such as tumor type, treatments, outcomes and patient demographics – which have been collected since 1973. It includes data for about 28 percent of the American population.
The data regarding treatment of male breast cancer is important, Rabinovitch says. Because the disease is so rare, it is very difficult to conduct clinical trials evaluating its treatment. Databases like SEER help researchers learn more about how the disease is being treated.
What this study showed, she says, is that both men and women with early-stage cancer have about the same outcome when they are treated with mastectomy or lumpectomy coupled with radiation therapy.
More importantly, says Rabinovitch, they learned that breast cancer is being treated differently in cases of male breast cancer.
In women, she says, surgery which conserves the breast tissue is performed more often than it is in men. Only about 38 percent of the women studied had a mastectomy for early-stage breast cancer, while 87 percent of men had this treatment. In fact, breast-conserving surgery is not traditionally even recommended for men with breast cancer. But, she says, perhaps it should be. Men often go shirtless at the beach or gym and appearance is very important to a man’s self-image. It is important for doctors to factor this fact into their treatment recommendations, she says.
She also notes that, although mastectomy may be used too often in male breast cancer treatment, radiation may, in fact, be under-used. In the study, 34 percent of men with locally advanced cancer – in which the disease either has a large tumor or has spread to the surrounding chest wall, skin or lymph nodes – were being treated with radiation. However, 45 percent of women with similar disease states where being treated using radiation.
These findings are quite important, Rabinovitch says. It demonstrates that doctors need to start making different recommendations for their male patients instead of assuming that the cosmetic aspects of treatment really don’t matter to them.
The study regarding the differences in male breast cancer treatment was published in the October 2013 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening