Men, teens aren't immune to breast cancer

October 15, 2007|By MEG PARTINGTON

While the statistics are skewed against them, women are not the only ones who get breast cancer.

For every 100 women diagnosed with breast cancer - about 220,000 women are diagnosed annually - one man is given the same news, said Dr. Frederic H. Kass III, medical director of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown. Rarer still is finding the disease in teens.

But still, breast cancer finds its way into the bodies of both sexes and affects a wide range of ages.

The average age for male breast cancer patients is the mid-60s to 70s, Kass said, while for women, the disease typically strikes those who have gone through menopause and peaks at about age 65.

Kass said he has been in practice since 1979 and has never had a female breast cancer patient younger than 25. He sees a new male breast cancer patient in his practice every year or two.


It's hard to pinpoint a cause of breast cancer in men, Kass said, but there are a few risk factors.

If there is a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer among women in a family, men run a greater risk of getting it, Kass said. A genetic marker can be checked for those cancers, he said, adding that if a man's mother or sister has such a marker, it could signal a risk for him.

Some men with Klinefelter Syndrome have a higher risk of getting breast cancer, said Dr. Dan Cornell, director of radiation oncology at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center. The syndrome is present in men with an extra X chromosome in most of their cells. Instead of having the typical XY chromosome pattern that most males have, men with Klinefelter Syndrome have an XXY pattern, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The most common symptom of the syndrome is infertility, according to NIH, but men who have it might also have small, firm testicles; a small penis; small amounts of pubic, armpit and facial hair; or enlarged breasts.

Kass added that men with large breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia, might also have a higher risk of getting breast cancer.

Detection and treatment

Because men don't have much breast tissue, the presence of a lump is more obvious, Cornell said.

Once a growth is detected, a biopsy is performed to determine if the growth is cancerous, he said.

If the disease is present, the breast and superficial muscles are removed, as well as some lymph nodes from the armpit, Kass said. Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy, depending on the severity of the cancer.

Just as the number of cases of breast cancer in men are low, so, too, are the number of clinical trials seeking the best course of treatment for them. Because of that, physicians use the results of clinical studies on female patients to help determine the most promising plan of attack, Kass said.

"A rare phenomenon"

As with men, the low number of teen breast cancer patients makes treatment plans hard to outline.

"It's such a rare phenomenon," Kass said.

Detection can be tricky, too, since young women tend to have denser breasts than their older counterparts and therefore their breasts might feel lumpy, Kass said.

"Not everything that causes breast swelling is cancer," Kass said.

However, he said young women should have a doctor examine any lumps that are causing concern.

Breast cancer treatment options continue to evolve as studies follow their long-term effects, Kass said. Chemotherapy, in particular, has a potentially adverse effect on women's hearts, he said - something to consider with teens who could experience heart problems as adults after surviving breast cancer.

Meg H. Partington is a feature writer and editor for the Herald-Mail Company. She can be reached at

According to the American Cancer Society, some symptoms of male breast cancer include:

· A lump or swelling Skin dimpling or puckering

· Nipples turning inward

·Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin

· Discharge from the nipple

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