It’s rare, but men can get breast cancer too. Here’s how to spot the signs

Last year, 60 men in Canada died of breast cancer.

The disease in men is rare, making up less than one per cent of all cancers, but experts like Shawn Chirrey, senior manager, analysis at the Canadian Cancer Society said men shouldn’t ignore the symptoms.

“People automatically assume breast cancer is exclusive to women, but men have breast tissues like women do,” he told Global News. “[The breasts are] not developed the same way, but we are still prone to it.”

He pointed out there are some differences between men and women developing the cancer, but for the most part, it usually affects men after the age of 60.

Speaking out and raising awareness

And as we count down to the last few days of Breast Cancer Month, many male breast cancer survivors have been sharing their stories to make sure other men ask their doctors about their risks.

On Tuesday, 67-year-old Moses Musonga of Kenya told the BBC he was in “shock” when he first found out he had stage-three breast cancer in 2013.

“I was in denial and wondered why such a disease, which is not male-oriented, had singled me out of millions of men in the world,” he told the broadcaster. “I hadn’t known that breast cancer affects men and therefore didn’t notice that what was affecting me was breast cancer.”

Musonga’s breasts were unusually bigger than most men in his age group, but he never thought it was of concern. Soon, he began to develop ulcers on his right breast.

On Monday, Frank Dalton of Virginia opened up about his second-stage cancer diagnosis to WDBJ Television based in the town of Altavista.

“I sat in the truck and cried; I’m not going to deny it. I cried, and then in a few minutes I said, ‘let’s get it together,’” he explained to the broadcaster.

Dalton said he noticed a lump on his chest one day while he was shower, but he never knew men could develop breast cancer.

And most recently, John Falk, 55, told Men’s Health he beat breast cancer twice.

“The thing I read about men’s experiences with breast cancer is the shame they felt,” he told the magazine. “They don’t like going to doctors, hospitals. They convince themselves, ‘Oh it’s just a cyst. It’s nothing.’ I went into the office for my mammogram and it’s all women — the offices aren’t geared for men, but it didn’t bother me. I wasn’t embarrassed.”

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Risk factors and signs

Chirrey agreed it’s important for men to share these stories honestly, and with so much focus on prevention and treatment for women — breast cancer makes up 25.5 per cent of all cancers in women — men also have to know the signs.

While the Canadian Cancer Society doesn’t recommend taking self-breast exams anymore (Chirrey said research shows this doesn’t catch cancer earlier), it is still important to be breast aware.

Know the signs: check for discharge or bleeding nipples, crusting of the nipple, inverse nipples, swelling or pain of the nipples, lumps in the armpit or open sores that don’t heal.

But before this, know your risk factors.

“If you have a family history of breast cancer, that’s something men should be aware of even before they start seeing symptoms,” he saidl

Chirrey noted that besides a family history of the disease, other known risk factors include BRCA gene mutations, which are changes to the breast cancer genes. “Men who carry these gene mutations may pass them on to their children. Children of men with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.” the Canadian Cancer Society noted.

Klinefelter syndrome is a rare genetic disorder in which men have lower than normal levels of androgens and higher levels of estrogen. This can also lead to a higher risk of breast cancer in men.

And when it comes to radiation, exposure in the chest area also increases the risk of breast cancer.

If you are experiencing any symptoms or fall into any of the categories of risk factors, speak with your healthcare professional to go over prevention or treatment options.

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