Breast cancer in males diagnosed late due to lack of awareness

A leading cancer specialist at one of Dubai's largest private hospitals has drawn attention to the fact that a good percentage of people have never come across the phrase ‘Breast cancer in men’, which is a direct indication of how little it has been spoken about.

Dr. Sabiha Sayasachi Banerjee, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Canadian Specialist Hospital, said that breast cancer in men may not be as common as it is in women, but the survival rates in men are much lower as compared to women. "The lower incidence of breast cancer and lack of awareness among men often leads to ignorance, hence, men are usually diagnosed with breast cancer after they have reached the advanced stage. Delayed help seeking behaviour is a massive issue among men worldwide."

Factors that can lead to breast cancer in men include their family history, a history of radiation exposure of the chest, enlargement of breasts, gynecomastia, from drug or hormone treatments, consumption of estrogen, a rare genetic condition called Klinefelter's syndrome, severe liver disease, cirrhosis, and diseases of the testicles such as mumps, bacterial orchitis, a testicular injury, or an undescended testicle.

"Breast cancer can develop in a man’s breast cells even though men do not lactate. The tumour is usually detected underneath the nipple and areola as a hard lump. Other symptoms of breast cancer are nipple discoloration, irritation and nipple discharge. Due to the incognisance and the social stigma associated with breast cancer, the tumour diagnosed among men is of a higher grade and significantly larger in size. Breast cancer in men could sometimes therefore become more severe than in women. The cancer mass may aggravate and spread to the nearby lymph nodes and organs depending on the delay in diagnosis," Dr. Banerjee explained.

"Every year, people from across the world come together and raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer among women, which has led to the misconception that only women are likely to develop the condition. More organisations need to openly speak about the issue among men to eradicate the taboo that has developed around breast cancer. Education and raising awareness is the key to encouraging early detection which will further lead to higher survival rates among men," she added.

The usual health screening methods to detect breast cancer in males and females include breast self-exams, ultrasounds, mammograms and clinical exams.

Breast cancer has a higher incidence among men over the age of 60, but all men of age 35 and above are recommended to perform regular self-examinations at home and consult a doctor immediately in case of any abnormalities.

Self-examination is the first step towards early detection and should be done by both men and women. The most common symptom of breast cancer is the formation of a lump. During the self-examination, men must carefully observe their chest and look for any distortion or lumps. Any new lump or change in shape should be checked by the physician.

"Apart from increasing the survival rates, early detection also increases the treatment options. If cancer is detected at the initial stage, extensive treatments like chemotherapy can be avoided. Usually, breast cancer in men is treated the same as breast cancer in women which involves surgery to remove the affected tissue, radiation and chemotherapy. Unlike women, breast cancer in men is more likely to be hormone-receptor-positive, hence, 90 percent of breast cancers in men respond better to hormone therapy," added Dr. Banerjee.

"As a community, we need to overcome the social stigma that comes along with the condition and treat every health issue equally. Both men and women need to be cautious about their health and be alert regarding any minor changes in their body. Early detection can save lives," she concluded.

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