Breast cancer affects men too

October is recognised internationally as breast cancer awareness month.

Although breast cancer is 100 times
more common in women, men can get it too.

Boys and girls have the same amount
of breast tissue until puberty. Female hormones, produced by the ovaries, cause
breasts to grow in girls. Male hormones, produced by the testicles, prevent
growth of breast tissue.

The breasts are composed of fatty
tissue that contains the glands responsible for making milk.

Within each breast, there are about
15 to 25 lobes formed by groups of lobules, the glands that produce milk.

The lobules are arranged around
ducts that transport milk from the milk glands (lobules) to the nipple. About
15 to 20 ducts come together near the areola (pink or brown pigmented region surrounding
the nipple) to form the ampullae – cavities that store the milk before it
reaches the nipple surface.

Men’s breast tissue contains ducts,
but only a few if any lobules. Like all cells of the body, a man’s breast duct
cells can undergo cancerous changes. Breast cancer is less common in men
because their breast duct cells are less developed than those of women and
because their breast cells are not constantly exposed to the growth-promoting
effects of female hormones.

The organs and tissues of the body
are made up of cells. Normal cells are born, grow, divide and die in an orderly
manner. Sometimes cells do not die and keep dividing/growing abnormally.

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal
cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and invade other tissues.

As with most cancers, the exact
cause of all breast cancers is not known.


Risk factors

However, there are certain risk
factors associated with the disease. Some risk factors, such as smoking,
drinking, and diet are linked to things a person does. Others, like a person’s
age, race, or family history, can’t be changed.

Having a risk factor, or even
several, does not mean that a person will get cancer; whereas others who have
one or more risk factors never get the disease.

Having one or more close family
relatives (your mother or father, sister or brother, daughter or son) diagnosed
with breast cancer will increase risk.

Additionally, a family history of
colorectal and ovarian cancer can also increase risk.

In some cases, a defective gene can
be passed on which will increase the risk. There are several associated with
breast cancer including BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Additionally, if a woman has been
previously diagnosed with ovarian or colon cancer, her risk will be greater.

Increased amounts of oestrogen, a
female hormone, circulating in the body over the course of a lifetime will
increase the risk of developing breast cancer. The more oestrogen your body is
exposed to over your lifetime, the greater your risk for breast cancer.

Women who started having monthly
periods early (i.e., before age 12), went through menopause after the age of
55, had their first child after age 30, have never been pregnant or used
hormone replacement therapy for more than five years may be at an increased

Lifestyle factors can also increase
risk. These include the use of alcoholic beverages – the more you drink the
greater your risk, the use of tobacco products, exposure to second-hand tobacco
smoke, obesity and weight gain, especially after menopause.


Similar factors for men

Many factors affecting men’s risk
of getting breast cancer are similar to those that affect women, such as:
aging, family history, inherited gene mutations, alcohol use and obesity.

However, there are also some male
specific risk factors:

Klinefelter syndrome – A condition
that causes men’s testicles to be smaller than usual and not produce
functioning sperm cells, making them infertile. Compared with other men, they
have lower levels of androgens (male hormones) and more oestrogens (female

Liver disease – The liver plays an
important role in sex hormone metabolism by making binding proteins that carry
the hormones in the blood. These binding proteins affect the hormones’ activity.
Men with severe liver disease such as cirrhosis have relatively low levels of
androgens and higher oestrogen levels. Therefore, they may have an increased
risk of developing breast cancer. Perhaps due to its effects on the liver,
heavy alcohol intake increases the risk of breast cancer in men.

Oestrogen treatment –
Oestrogen-related drugs are sometimes used in hormonal therapy for men with
prostate cancer. This treatment may slightly increase their breast cancer risk.
However, this risk is small compared with the benefits of this treatment in
slowing the growth of prostate cancer. Men taking high doses of oestrogens as
part of a sex change procedure may also have a higher breast cancer risk.

Conditions affecting the testicles
– Some studies have suggested that certain conditions that affect the
testicles, such as having an undescended testicle, having mumps as an adult, or
having one or both testicles surgically removed (orchiectomy) may increase
breast cancer risk. More research is needed in this area.

For more information, contact the
Cayman Islands Cancer Society at 949-7618 or attend a Lions Club of Tropical
Gardens awareness session this month.


Camila Muniz Ferreira is project
coordinator for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society