Male Breast Cancer Is Rare, But Lack Of Awareness Is Hurting Men

2,350 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year.

Although breast cancer is about 100 times less common in men than in women, a lack of education about it can lead to late diagnoses -- a complication that ultimately affects men's survival chances.

"Most of the time, if men do get it, they're quiet about it," Bret Miller, a male breast cancer survivor, told Newsy in the video above. "They feel embarrassed."

The embarrassment many men feel about being diagnosed with what's traditionally been considered a women's disease can have wider awareness implications, too. In a small-scale study published in the American Journal of Nursing in 2010, 80 percent of participants weren't even aware that men could get breast cancer.

The risk of male breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000, according to the American Cancer Society, but symptoms and risk factors are similar in men and women. Age, a family history of breast cancer, Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, a mutation in the BRCA gene and lifestyle factors such as heavy drinking all raise the risk of male breast cancer. Treatments including chemotherapy and mastectomies are also similar for men and women.

Where the difference lies is in diagnosis and screening. As Marleen Meyers, an assistant professor of medical oncology with NYU Langone Medical Center told U.S. News and World Report last year, men don't undergo routine breast cancer screenings.

“They only seek medical attention when they feel a lump, whereas women have routine screenings and get it identified earlier," Meyers said. "By the time men come in, the tumor is usually at least 1 centimeter in size, and the cancer has often spread.”

Because male breast cancer is so rare, experts don't see much benefit in general-population screenings, such as mammograms, according to the American Cancer Society.

On the other hand, men with a strong family history of breast cancer or who have the BRCA mutation as determined by genetic testing should speak with their doctors about managing their breast cancer risk.

Check out the Newsy video above for more information about why breast cancer isn't just a women's disease.

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