Male breast cancer on the rise

Breast cancer is most commonly viewed as a female disease, but scientists in the UK say the number of cases of male breast cancer is on the rise in England.

For a study, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research, researchers at the University of Leeds looked at data on male breast cancer cases in England, Canada, Scotland and Australia between 1986 and 2006.

The analysis showed the incidence of male breast cancer in England increased during that time, from 185 cases in 1986 to 277 cases in 2006. Researchers say this corresponds to a rise of one third from 0.5 to 0.7 cases per 100,000 men.

The reasons for the increase are not fully understood, according to lead researcher Dr. Valerie Speirs.

‘Lifestyle changes over the latter decades of the 20th century, leading to increased obesity, physical inactivity and development of a binge drinking culture, may be contributing factors,’ she said in a release. ‘Some of the same inherited genetic changes that increase the risk of women developing breast cancer are also thought to influence risk in men.’

While the study indicated that cases of male breast cancer are rising, the numbers are still relatively small, researchers say, especially when compared to women affected by the disease.

“Many men are unaware they can be affected by breast cancer but this work has highlighted that the number of cases is gradually increasing. It must be stressed that the numbers are still extremely small — 150 times less than in women so we are certainly not talking about an epidemic. However better awareness is needed,” Dr. Speirs said.

In Canada, less than 1 per cent of all breast cancers occur in men, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Symptoms of male breast cancer

While male breast cancer is most common in older men, it can occur at any age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If diagnosed at an early stage, men with breast cancer have a good chance for a cure. But many men don’t see their doctors until the disease is more advanced, experts say. So what symptoms should men watch for?

Signs of male breast cancer can include:

–A painless lump or thickening in the breast tissue.
–Changes to the skin covering the breast, such as dimpling, puckering, redness or scaling.
–Changes to the nipple, such as redness, scaling or a nipple that turns inward.
–Discharge from the nipple.

While many breast problems don’t indicate cancer, experts advise seeing you doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.

Watch a video from the Mayo Clinic on male breast cancer:

Sources: University of Leeds press release; Mayo Clinic; Canadian Cancer Society; Science Daily

Photo © Sean Locke

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