Breast cancer awareness has been on the rise ever since the 1980s, and today there are countless organizations, networks, research foundations, and risk management groups that have contributed to this awareness. However, when the topic of breast cancer comes up the focus group tends to be women, not men. Over the past forty years, much has been learned about the cancer that is projected to take the lives of over 40,000 U.S. women in 2014, but normative knowledge of male breast cancer remains slim. Recent research has pointed to certain factors that put men at risk, and this year it is estimated that 2,360 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Since the 1990s, the rate of breast cancer diagnosis in U.S. women has increased, an increase that was seen in tandem with growing mammography screenings. Despite increased diagnoses of the cancer, mortality rates in women have for the most part declined since the 1990s. According to Komen, the largest breast cancer organization in the U.S., mortality rates for male breast cancer patients have not changed much over the last thirty years. However, it is worth noting that in contrast to the plethora of statistics on breast cancer in women, the data available for men are less extensive.
Komen also reports that the survival rates of men and women with breast cancer are the same. Although the survival rates remain similar for men and women with the same stage of breast cancer, studies show that men often do not get diagnosed until later stages. One reason for this is that men report their symptoms later in life than women. Typically, men do not get diagnosed with the cancer until their sixties and seventies, whereas women are often diagnosed much earlier. The risk appears minimal for men, who make up less than 1 percent of all treated breast cancer cases per year. The estimated mortality for male breast cancer in the U.S. will be 450 for the year.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institutes published a study this February that aimed to increase knowledge of the risk factors for breast cancer facing men. Among the most significant risks were obesity, Klinefelter’s syndrome, and diabetes. Other reports add that radiation exposure, abnormal levels of estrogen, and chronic alcoholism put men at a higher risk.
There is also a well-known gene mutation that puts both men and women at risk for breast cancer. BRCA2, also known as the “early onset” gene, is the most threatening inherited risk for men. Komen reports that 40 percent of breast cancer instances in men are related to a BRCA2 mutation, whereas for women the mutation is only found present in 10 percent of cases. Further research is being conducted on the BRCA2 gene, as well as the BRCA1 gene, which has already been linked to breast cancer in women.
As more research focuses on breast cancer risks in men, there is hope that it might shed light on preventative measures. Although the risk appears dwarfed compared to women, the research suggests that awareness would go a long way toward identifying and treating at risk men for breast cancer.
By Courtney Anderson